Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 227

On Tuesday (December 8), the severed heads of four Westerners who had been kidnapped in Chechnya were discovered in the Achkoi-Martan region of Chechnya, near the border with Ingushetia. The four victims–Peter Kennedy, Darren Hickey and Rudolf Petshci of Great Britain, and Stanley Shaw of New Zealand–were employed by Granger Telecom, a British telephone company. They had been kidnapped in the Chechen capital of Djohar on October 3 (Russian agencies, December 8). Since the end of the war in Chechnya, the seizing of hostages for ransom has become a very popular criminal business in the republic. More than 100 people have been taken hostage, dozens of them foreigners. However, until this latest tragedy, all had been, eventually and safely, returned home. In each of those instances, the Kremlin officially denied that a ransom had been paid, only to be contradicted by the Chechen authorities. The Russian mass media has tended to agree with the Chechen authorities that ransoms were, indeed, paid.

Granger Telecom was working in Chechnya on a contract with Chechen-Telecom, a private firm, to install a cellular phone system. Only several days before the Granger Telecom employees were seized, two other British hostages, John James and Camilla Carr, who had been working on humanitarian projects in Chechnya, arrived safely in London. While the British government had announced after the kidnapping of James and Carr that Britain’s official position was not to pay ransoms for kidnappings, many analysts believe the fact that the Granger Telecom employees were kidnapped immediately after James and Carr were released suggests that a ransom was in fact paid. It is possible, however, that the ransom was paid not by the British authorities, but by one of Russia’s influential businessmen. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky played a mediating role in the freeing of James and Carr. The Chechen authorities have more than once accused Berezovsky of paying off criminals for the release of hostages. Ray Verth, chief executive Granger Telecom, said Tuesday that the Chechen authorities had made an attempt to free his employees Monday night, but that it had gone “tragically wrong.” It is possible that their captors decided to murder them when they decided there was no chance of receiving a ransom (NTV, December 8).

Turpal-ali-Atgireev, Chechnya’s acting first deputy prime minister, who was in charge of investigating the kidnapping of the Granger Telecom employees, has claimed that the authorities have already figured out who was involved in the kidnapping. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, likewise, was only able to say the murderers are known. Maskhadov plans to express to the British authorities his government’s condolences over the tragedy (Russian agencies, December 8).