Pawns in deadly Chechen feud paid with their lives

BEFORE THEY left Britain, they knew the deal on which they were working was worth millions of pounds. But the four engineers who travelled to Chechnya last year had no idea they would rapidly become pawns in a telecommunications struggle that was secretive, brutal and, ultimately, deadly.

Darren Hickey, Rudolf Petschi, Peter Kennedy and Stanley Shaw had gone to Chechnya to install equipment for a new mobile phone network. The deal had been brokered between Surrey-based Granger Telecom, for whom three of the men worked, and the state-owned Chechen Telecom. Mr Kennedy was contracted by British Telecom.

The men were under the protection of Chechen Telecom who were providing security for them at their house in the north of the capital, Grozny. While the men were aware of Chechnya's reputation as a lawless place where kidnapping was common, they had no idea their presence would anger some in the government.

But it seems this is exactly what happened. Inquiries in Moscow suggest the men were kidnapped on the orders of senior government officials who secretly controlled an alternative telecommunications network.

Lechi Alisultanov, an official with Chechen Telecom, made the revelations during a detailed interview with the Independent on Sunday in a Moscow cafe. The quietly spoken, dapper man appeared nervous as he gave his account, constantly checking other tables for eavesdroppers.

He made no request for money, and none was offered. He had been contacted by this newspaper after it learned through a third party that he was anxious to describe what had occurred.

Mr Alisultanov, 36, said the telecom engineers were seized on the orders of senior Chechen government officials who covertly control a rival mobile phone contract. Granger's system was expected to be popular in Chechnya: unlike the existing mobile connection, via a company called Moskovskaya Sotovaya, Granger's phones would not have been routed through Moscow. That meant they were less likely to be monitored by the Russian security services.

He said the abduction happened at 3.20am on 3 October last year when the men were asleep in their one-storey redbrick house. A gang of 11 masked men leapt over the fence, shot the men's mongrel dog, and escaped with their hostages before their three bodyguards - who were in an outhouse - could intervene.

Until then, Mr Alisultanov's relationship with the Western engineers had been close. He says that every day he escorted them on the three-mile journey from their digs to their workplace. In the evenings, they would drop into his house to watch football, and at weekends they went together on trips up the winding roads into the nearby Caucasus mountains.

"I am responsible for the security of my guests. If something happens to them, it is a disgrace and insult to me and all my relatives," he said.

Mr Alisultanov claims that the kidnappings were carried out by a gang controlled by Arbi Barayev, a young man who has become the most notorious player in the Chechen kidnapping business. The men were taken to the Urus Martan area, a rural region 20 miles south of Grozny which has become the stamping ground of Barayev and his bandits. At one stage, the same group also held the British aid workers Jon James and Camilla Carr, who were held for 14 months before their release last September.

Although Barayev is an advocate of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam, his chief interest was cash. "Barayev's only concern was to get money," said Mr Alisultanov. They wanted $2.5m (pounds 1.6m) a head. "We said we simply don't have that kind of money," he said.

At this stage the issue became complicated by the Chechen teip - or clan system. Mr Alisultanov was from a teip which had long been in conflict with Barayev's; so even more determined to act, he and his associates kidnapped one of Barayev's henchmen - an aide called Apti Abitayev. All negotiations with Barayev instantly stopped. Five days later, the severed heads of the four men were found in a sack on a road 25 miles from Grozny.

Appalled by the murders - which he concedes may have been triggered by the abduction of the rebel Abitayev - Mr Alisultanov agreed to hand over their hostage to the authorities. They expected Abitayev to be prosecuted for kidnapping. Mr Alisultanov says that, to his surprise, Abitayev was released under the orders of the deputy prosecutor-general as part of an agreement for the return by Barayev of the men's bodies to Britain.

"The rules simply don't function in Chechnya," he said. "We are people, not dogs. So we mean one day to punish everyone involved."

These revelations are in contrast to the findings of the Metropolitan Police officers who travelled to the region to investigate the deaths for the coroner.

Their report concludes that "it is not possible to establish with any degree of accuracy exactly why the four engineers were murdered".

It adds: "It is perhaps most likely ... that the engineers were the unfortunate victims of warring mercenary factions."

Granger Telecom has declined to comment on the case before the conclusion of the inquest into the men's deaths. However, it is understood that the victim's relatives are unhappy that the police have been unable to establish anything conclusive.

Last night a spokesman for Mr Hickey's family said they were concerned by the latest revelations. "At this stage we cannot comment on them but would ask that the information be passed to the coroner," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn