Hostage-taker is `ready to kill'

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The Independent Online
DAVID LUNGGREN

of Reuters

Moscow - Shamil Basayev, one of the most experienced and ruthless commanders in Chechnya, is a hardliner with nothing to lose. Russian forces surrounding Budennovsk hospital, where his Chechen group has taken countless hostages, must be unhappy to be facing him. He says his men will shoot all the male captives unless Russia ends the Chechen campaign, in which he is said to have lost 11 family members.

"Basayev, an ardent nationalist and experienced soldier who fought in Abkhazia ... is now the number one person in Chechnya," Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia's Federal Security Service, told the Itar-Tass news agency last month. It is he, rather than Dzhokhar Dudayev, "who now heads the Chechen rebels".

Mr Dudayev said he had not authorised the Budennovsk raid. Mr Basayev may well have been one of the Chechen commanders who were reported last month to have insisted on taking the conflict into Russia proper.

"It does not matter to us when we die. What matters is how we die. We must die with dignity," the heavily bearded commander, who is in his mid- thirties, said on Thursday. He asserted that he and his men had been trying to mount an attack on Moscow.

"He is not devious - he is genuine and believes in what he is doing,'' a Moscow-based Western expert on the North Caucasus said.

``He sees no dilemmas because he's convinced that what he's doing is right. He's radical, a pretty cool character. I would say he really means it. If the Russians try to take the hospital he will certainly, without compunction, kill all the men. I am quite sure they are prepared to die themselves."

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