London-based Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakaev was arrested today (September 17) in Poland, where he had traveled to attend the World Congress of the Chechen People taking place in Warsaw on September 16-18.
A Polish police spokesman told Reuters that Zakaev, who was granted political exile in Britain in 2003 and is wanted by the Russian authorities, had been detained and sent to the Warsaw prosecutor’s office. Further action in the case would be determined by the courts. Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk was quoted as telling a Polish radio station that Zakaev’s fate would be determined “according to our understanding of Poland’s national interests and justice, but not to fulfill another’s expectations,” adding that Poland has an “independent policy” on Chechnya. Polish Finance Minister Jan Rostowski told Polish radio: “I can’t imagine Zakaev would be handed to Russia… If a Polish court decides to extradite him, the justice minister’s agreement is still required.” Rostowski added that “there are such things as overriding values” (Reuters, RIA Novosti, September 17).
For his part, the Russian president’s envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Aleksandr Khloponin, said today (September 17) that Zakaev must be extradited to Russia. “Akhmed Zakaev is an international criminal and an international terrorist,” he said. “He must be tried in Russia” (www.baltinfo.ru, September 17).
On September 14, Russia’s ambassador to Poland, Aleksandr Alekseyev, said Russia would seek Zakaev’s extradition if he traveled to Poland for the World Chechen Congress. But a spokesman for Poland’s Foreign Ministry, Marcin Bosacki, said there were no legal grounds to refuse Zakaev’s entry into Poland. The following day, however, a spokesman for Poland’s chief prosecutor, Mateusz Martyniuk, said Zakaev was the object of an international arrest warrant issued by Russia that automatically requires all Interpol member states to arrest him, and therefore Polish police were obligated to detain Zakaev if he arrived in Poland and “bring him before public prosecutors in front of a court that will rule on his eventual extradition” (Agence France-Presse, BBC, September 15).
Yesterday (September 16), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia had informed the Polish authorities that “several people” on the international wanted list planned to take part in the Chechen congress in Warsaw. “Our appeal was taken seriously,” he said. “We presume that it will continue to be [taken seriously]” (www.baltinfo.ru, September 16).
Meanwhile, violence continued this week in the wake of the suicide bombing in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, on September 9 that killed 18 people and injured more than 200 others. Today (September 17), unidentified attackers detonated an improvised explosive device that blew up an eternal flame at a park in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. On September 11, an explosive device went off at a similar eternal flame memorial in Kabardino-Balkaria – this one at Memorial Square in the town of Tyrnyauz, the administrative center of the republic’s Elbrus district (www.newsru.com, September 17).
On September 16, unidentified attackers in Dagestan shot and killed a policeman in the city of Kaspiisk. The incident took place after the police officer stopped a car and detained the driver, who appeared to be drunk. The policeman took the driver to a hospital in Kaspiisk for a test to determine his blood alcohol level. When the officer was exiting the hospital, two gunmen opened fire on him (www.newsru.com, September 17).
Earlier on September 16, security forces in Dagestan killed five suspected militants during a shootout in a wooded area located between the village of Gereikhanovo in the republic’s Suleiman-Stalsky district and the village of Tselyagyun in the Magaramkentsky district. The gun battle erupted when a unit of Interior Ministry Internal Troops discovered a group of at least 15 militants at what was described as a rebel camp. Following the battle, security forces discovered food and medical supplies as well as weapons and various munitions, including around 3,000 automatic rifle cartridges. ITAR-TASS quoted a source in the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) as saying that the slain militants were members of the group commanded by Israpil Validzhanov, aka Amir Khasan — who, according to the NAK, is the so-called “commander of the Dagestani front” and “vali [ruler] of Dagestan” (www.newsru.com, September 16).
On September 12, the director of the anti-extremism department of the North Caucasus Federal District, Lt.-Col. Gafal Gadzhiev, was killed when gunmen fired at his car in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said Gadzhiev had played an active role in actions against militants in Dagestan and was killed for that reason. Dagestan’s Interior Ministry reported later that eight militants involved in Gadzhiev’s murder had been killed during a security operation in Makhachkala (Interfax, September 13). Dagestani authorities claimed that a total of 13 militants were killed in special operations over September 11-12 – ten in Makhachkala and another three in the village of Komsomolskoye in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district (Interfax, September 14).