Briton fighting with Chechens found dead in rebel base

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The Independent Online

A British citizen fighting beside Chechen rebels has been killed by Russian special forces who discovered his hideout in Chechnya, military authorities in Moscow said.

The Russian army produced a blood-smeared letter yesterday which they said was found on Ottoman Larousi, an ethnic Algerian who apparently held British citizenship. It was addressed to Mr Larousi's sister, Fatima Hadaway, in London.

The letter, which could have been written under duress before Mr Larousi was killed, expresses disillusionment with the Chechen cause, saying: "This is not jihad ... these people do not like Muslims.

The Russians, who had raided a rebel base in the republic, found another man, Yacine Behatia, who had a British travel document, Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for the Russian forces, said. In the letter, Mr Larousi asks his sister to contact two men in London's Finsbury Park mosque. He says the men, Imad and Abdal Karim, can help him get a passport so he can get out of Chechnya.

He writes about the rebels, saying: "They are not good people, this is not jihad, they wanted to kill me any time, they are very bad people ... they are terrorists, they don't like Muslims ... you must find Abdal Karim or Imad quickly. I return home as soon as they send my passport."

The Russian forces claim to have found more documents and videotapes showing that Mr Larousi and Mr Behatia were members of a group of nine rebel fighters who participated in "a number of terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation".

Mr Larousi went to Chechnya through Georgia, using a French passport, his letter said. The Kremlin has often accused the Georgian government of not doing enough to prevent rebels from crossing into Chechnya through its Pankisi gorge. Mr Behatia's passport had entry stamps showing he had travelled to Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and the European Union before Chechnya. Russia is evidently using the incident to show that the Chechen conflict is part of the international war on terror, which will reinforce calls on the international community for help.

The federal forces said in a statement: "The authorities in Great Britain, France, Algeria, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the world community need to take measures to stop mercenaries and their recruitment, to close the channels for their transportation through these countries en route to Russian territory where they take part in terrorist acts."

Russia has been fighting Chechen separatists for most of the past decade, and has in recent years portrayed the struggle as part of the global fight against terrorism.

Restoring Russian rule in Chechnya was the "big idea" that helped put Vladimir Putin's back in the Kremlin. Four years on, the rebels are still fighting, but people have largely lost interest. From late 1999, Russian forces fought their way back into the towns they had lost in a humiliating defeat three years earlier under the former president, Boris Yeltsin. Even now, bloody attacks in Moscow blamed on Chechens have failed to galvanise public opposition, despite mounting military losses.

Médecins Sans Frontières, (MSF) which has extensive humanitarian operations in the Caucasus, said the Russian military is involved in "violence, arbitrary arrest and disappearances". Human rights groups say more than 400 people were kidnapped last year. Many who disappeared before, including MSF's Dutch employee Arjan Erkel, are still held.