Chechen rebel leader's family 'abducted'

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The Independent Online

The hunt for one of Russia's most wanted men -- the Chechen rebel president Aslan Maskhadov -- has taken an extraordinary twist with the kidnapping of eight of his relatives in what was allegedly an unorthodox attempt to "convince" him to give himself up.

The hunt for one of Russia's most wanted men -- the Chechen rebel president Aslan Maskhadov -- has taken an extraordinary twist with the kidnapping of eight of his relatives in what was allegedly an unorthodox attempt to "convince" him to give himself up.

Russia's leading human rights group, Memorial, claims the kidnappings, which are reported to have taken place in December were perpetrated by forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-backed deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Kadyrov denies all knowledge of the matter, however, and argues that the disappearances have not been officially reported.

The hostages are reported to include two of Mr Maskhadov's brothers, his sister, his nephew and a niece.

Along with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, Mr Maskhadov is the man Moscow most wants to see behind bars. It blames both men for the Beslan school massacre last September and has posted a $10m (£5.3m) reward for information leading to their "neutralisation".

In reality the job of catching them falls to Mr Kadyrov, the son of the troubled province's previous Moscow-backed president who was murdered last year.

Mr Kadyrov commands an unruly private army and boasted last September that he was on the verge of capturing Mr Maskhadov, a feat that would delight Russian president Vladimir Putin and earn the young Chechen a place in history.

But Mr Maskhadov, who has styled himself as the moderate face of Chechen separatism, has repeatedly avoided his pursuers, apparently never sleeping in the same place more than once.

Although Mr Kadyrov denies he is behind the kidnappings, such methods would not be unprecedented. Other Chechen militants have been "persuaded" to give themselves up after their relatives were abducted and held in primitive conditions.

Memorial said the hostages' relatives had obtained information suggesting they were being held in an illegal prison known as the "Chechen Abu Ghraib" in the village of Tsentoroi in eastern Chechnya, Mr Ramzan Kadyrov's power base.

"It's precisely there where there is an illegal prison in which the Kadyrovtsy [armed men loyal to Mr Kadyrov] keep people they have kidnapped and illegally detained," the group said yesterday in a statement.

In the past Mr Kadyrov has been accused of torturing his enemies in the shadowy prison - in particular by peeling strips of skin off their backs.

Yesterday Memorial published what purported to be a detailed eye-witness account of the abductions, which took place on the nights of 3 and 28 December.

Both sets of kidnappings followed similar methods, Memorial said: armed men claiming to be acting on the orders of Mr Kadyrov snatched people from their homes at gunpoint and drove them away in a convoy.

The hostages were Mr Maskhadov's sister Buchu Abdulkadyrova, 68, his brothers Lecha, 69, and Lemu, 55, Ikhvan Magomedov, his 35 year-old nephew and his 41 year-old niece Khadijat Satuyeva. A distant relative and two of Mr Maskhadov's son-in-laws were also taken.

A group of Chechen separatist politicians have written to the European Parliament requesting action. They point to statements by Russia's General Prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov, last October that terrorists' relatives must bear some responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by their loved ones as a sign of official involvement.

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