Informers betrayed Chechen leader for $10m, Russia says

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The Independent Online

Russia's FSB security service claims that it paid $10m (£5.5m) to Chechen informants who revealed the hiding place of the rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, killed during an operation by Russian forces last week.

Russia's FSB security service claims that it paid $10m (£5.5m) to Chechen informants who revealed the hiding place of the rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, killed during an operation by Russian forces last week.

The FSB found Maskhadov, who had been on the run for five years, in a tiny village in northern Chechnya. Maskhadov, 53, a former president of the republic and the figurehead of Chechen separatist resistance, did not survive the encounter but the details of his death remain a mystery.

The FSB, which has previously offered to pay for informers to undergo plastic surgery, said it had offered those to relocate those who betrayed Maskhadov to another part of Russia or even a Muslim country.

It also promised $10m to anyone who could shed light on the whereabouts of Russia's most wanted man, Shamil Basayev, the warlord who claimed responsibility for last September's Beslan school siege in which hundreds of people died.

In a country where the average monthly wage outside Moscow is as low as $200, the prospect of $10m seems certain to attract takers, even though informants are certain to be shot if discovered.

Alu Alkhanov, the Moscow-backed president of Chechnya and a man seen by rebels as a Kremlin stooge, claimed cash rewards would speed up the "neutralisation" of separatist rebels still at large. "I greet the news [of the bounty] with great satisfaction," he said. "No one will have doubts now that information about guerrilla leaders is always paid up."

Russian human rights activists - who have expressed a number of concerns over the way in which Maskhadov was tracked and killed - said offering reward money was the wrong approach. "It is the special services' job to search for people who are on the wanted list and to use informants, but without a reward, said Svetlana Gannushkina, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre's council. "Of course, payment is a widely used practice but, from a moral point of view, personally, I find it revolting."

There is widespread scepticism about the timing and manner of Maskhadov's death.

A poll by Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday found that 91 per cent of listeners did not believe the official version of events which is that he died accidentally in a grenade blast designed to destroy the bunker wall behind which he was cowering.

Suspicion has been fuelled by the fact the authorities have refused to hand over his body to relatives. Under Russian law, people deemed to be "terrorists," as Maskhadov was, are buried secretly in unmarked graves.

The fact that Russian forces blew up the house beneath which Maskhadov was apparently hiding as well as the bunker itself, purportedly to clear booby traps (despite investigators poring over it for two days previously), raised further doubts about the circumstances of his death. Yakha Yusupova, who lived in the house with her family, has denied Maskhadov was hiding there and suggested his corpse was brought in by Russian forces to stage his death. When shown on TV, Maskhadov had a wound on his left cheek which some scientists suggest could be an exit wound from a bullet fired into the back of his head.

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