Italian photographer Mauro Galligani, who was kidnapped in Chechnya on February 23, was released late in the evening of April 12 and returned home to Milan on a special flight from Moscow the following day. At a press conference in Moscow prior to his departure, Galligani said his kidnappers moved him constantly from place to place and threatened to kill him unless a $1 million ransom was paid. The Italian side categorically denied that any ransom was paid, as did the Chechen Republic’s department of state security. (RTR, April 14)
There is still no news of the four Radio Russia and Itar-Tass journalists who were kidnapped in Chechnya two months ago. According to NTV, they and Galligani were seized by a group headed by field commander Emir Khattab, a Chechen of Jordanian origin who has also fought in Tajikistan and whose detachment is not subordinate to the government of Chechnya. (NTV, April 14) Khattab is a legendary figure in Chechnya. His group performed one of the Chechen resistance forces’ boldest military operations of the Russian-Chechen war when it annihilated a Russian column near Yarysh-Marda. In Chechnya, he is considered a Wahabi, an adherent of a religious and political doctrine in Sunni Islam which is now the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. In Chechnya, Sufi Islam is widespread and Wahabism, from Djohar-gala’s point of view, is a deviation from true Islam.
But Galligani’s interpreter, former Soviet political prisoner Andrei Mironov, who was present when the journalist was kidnapped, has told the Monitor that Khattab had nothing to do with the journalists’ kidnapping. According to Mironov, in all the negotiations on releasing the hostages, field commander Slavudi Abdurzakov, a relative of Chechen vice president Vakha Arsanov, served as intermediary. In Mironov’s opinion, this suggests Aburzakov and Arsanov had something to do with the kidnapping. Mironov, who participated in the negotiations to free Galligani, maintains that ransom was paid for the release of the Italian journalist and all the preceding victims.
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