Russia Says Turkey, Qatar Aid Rebels
MOSCOW -- Russia charged Thursday that Turkey and Qatar are giving sanctuary to Chechen rebels, as officials released taped excerpts that they said linked militants who took over a Moscow theater to ousted Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.
Pressing a diplomatic offensive to brand Chechen separatists as terrorists worldwide in the wake of the Oct. 23-26 theater takeover that led to at least 119 deaths among the hostages, Russia already has persuaded Denmark to detain a former Chechen deputy prime minister close to Maskhadov on allegations of terrorist activity.
Until recently, Maskhadov was the most likely negotiating partner for Russia in any talks to end the three-year war in the separatist Russian republic. President Vladimir V. Putin has virtually ruled out negotiations.
Putin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky used a news conference Thursday to put the spotlight not only on Maskhadov but also on Qatar, which he said is sheltering another top Chechen figure, Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, and on Turkey, which he said is allowing Chechen rebel groups to openly raise funds.
According to an excerpt of a taped phone conversation played at the news conference, the leader of the hostage-takers, Movsar Barayev, spoke to Yanderbiyev in Qatar. In the conversation, Barayev said that “Aslan” knew about the plans to seize the theater. Only three brief excerpts were played, however, and there was no way to verify the government’s interpretations, including that Barayev was referring to Maskhadov.
The Chechen detained Wednesday in Copenhagen, Ahmed Zakayev, was in Denmark to attend a congress on Chechnya that had infuriated the Kremlin. The Danish government agreed to hold him on an Interpol warrant as Russia initiated a formal extradition request Thursday.
Interviewed by The Times last week before his arrest, Zakayev denied any link to the hostage-takers: “Neither President Maskhadov nor any of our official representatives are in any way connected,” he said at the time. Rather, he blamed Russian policy in Chechnya: “Every day of war, every day of punitive measures leaves dozens of lone avengers who cannot be controlled by Maskhadov or anyone else.”
At the news conference Thursday, an expert for the Federal Security Service presented details of the bombs found in the theater, which he said were powerful enough to have brought down the entire building and to have killed all of the more than 750 hostages.
Col. Vladimir Yeryomin said hostage-takers had explosives equivalent to 250 pounds of TNT, including two large devices containing an artillery shell within a metal container packed with ball bearings; 25 devices of about 5 pounds each; and more than 100 grenades. If exploded, there would have been “absolute destruction,” he said.
His evidence seemed aimed at bolstering Russia’s position that it had no choice but to storm the theater after first pumping in an opiate-based anesthetic aerosol, fentanyl, that knocked out most of the Chechen militants and the hostages.
Although officials admit that the drug caused the deaths of 117 of the 119 hostages killed, Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov disputed a suggestion that emergency personnel were not informed about the drug in time or prepared to deal with its effects.
“The physicians knew what to do,” he insisted.
One hundred eighty-four of the former hostages remained hospitalized Thursday, eight in serious condition, health officials said.