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Chechen Politican Disappears

Published: September 8, 2000 (Issue # 601)


MOSCOW - In a large-scale operation involving armored vehicles and helicopters, federal forces arrested Ruslan Alik hadzhiyev, the speaker of the Che chen parliament, at his home in Shali in broad daylight more than three months ago.

What happened to him after that is a mystery. The authorities say he is not in custody and they have no record of his arrest. But Chechen President Aslan Mas kha dov says he knows exactly where Alik hadzhiyev is - dead in Moscow's Lefortovo jail.

Saturday's announcement by Mask ha dov's press service, which claims Alik hadzhiyev was tortured to death, has attracted the attention of the media, human-rights watchdogs and Chechnya's newly elected deputy in parliament. But the Federal Security Service, or FSB, which operates Lefortovo, continued to deny this week that it is holding Alikhadzhiyev.

Disappearing in federal custody is nothing new for residents of Chechnya. The human-rights organization Memorial estimates that federal authorities have held thousands of Chechens for weeks or months without notifying relatives. Often, bodies are only found later.

But Alikhadzhiyev's case is striking because he is a political figure of moderate fame and was arrested in an operation that nobody tried to keep secret.

On the morning of May 17, federal forces arrived by armored vehicle, accompanied by helicopters, at Alik had zhi yev's house, the Chechen parliament speaker's cousin Visark Dombayev said in a telephone interview from his Mos cow hotel room Tuesday.

Dombayev, who lives across the street from Alikhadzhiyev and witnessed the arrest, said Alikhadzhiyev did not resist.

Dombayev's account matched one provided by the newspaper Kommersant on May 23.

On May 25, Col. Gen. Valery Ma ni lov, deputy chief of the General Staff, confirmed the arrest, off-handedly including Alikhadzhiyev's name in a list of prominent rebels taken prisoner that he ticked off at a briefing.

But in the following months, the record of Alikhadzhiyev's arrest somehow disappeared. State Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov sent an official inquiry about Alik had zhiyev to federal prosecutors in Chechnya. In late July, a deputy prosecutor, V.A. Russkikh, sent an answer, a copy of which was provided to The St. Petersburg Times: Alikhadzhiyev was not in federal custody and had never been arrested.

This week, Alikhadzhiyev's name surfaced again when Maskhadov's representatives declared that he was tortured to death in the Lefortovo jail.

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