Litvinenko Still Challenging FSB

When Alexander Litvinenko worked for the Federal Security Service, his job was to try to infiltrate and topple terrorist networks. Today he is fighting what he claims is the country's biggest terrorist group: his former employer.

From London, where he fled in November 2000, Litvinenko, 39, talks to anyone who will listen about the FSB's alleged role in apartment-house bombings that killed some 300 people in Russia in 1999. He claims to have vital evidence stashed in a suitcase waiting for independent investigators.

Many Russians have questioned the official version of the 1999 events, which blames the bombings in Moscow and the southern city of Volgodonsk on Chechen rebels. But prosecutors have shown little interest in the contents of Litvinenko's suitcase.

On Tuesday, in response to an inquiry by State Duma Deputy Anatoly Kulikov, the Prosecutor General's Office issued a final dismissal of the claims, saying it had thoroughly investigated the FSB's actions and had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The announcement followed parliament's recent refusal to set up its own commission to investigate the bombings.

Nevertheless, Litvinenko's case against the FSB could soon see daylight. Skeptics of the government version, including five lawmakers, have formed their own commission, and Litvinenko says he will give them important documents, as well as audio and video recordings of witness testimony.

Ultimately, these allegations could damage the image of President Vladimir Putin, who is holding a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in Russia next week. Putin, who headed the FSB until a month before the bombings, was not president when they happened, but they helped to reignite the war in Chechnya, which spurred his rise to power.

Putin has dismissed as "delirious nonsense" the idea that the FSB organized the bombings as a pretext for launching a new Chechnya offensive.

"The very allegation is immoral," he said to the Kommersant newspaper shortly before his election in March 2000.

Speaking by telephone recently, Litvinenko said his evidence would implicate the top leadership of the security service in Russia's deadliest terrorist attacks.

"The FSB is a terrorist organization," Litvinenko said. "I am first and foremost an anti-terrorism officer."

Litvinenko acknowledges a personal vendetta against the FSB. In 1998, he publicly accused his superiors of ordering him to kill tycoon Boris Berezovsky, at the time a powerful Kremlin insider and now a prime exponent of the theory that the FSB was behind the bombings.

Since then, four criminal cases have been opened against Litvinenko -- all fabricated, he maintains.

In 1999-2000, Litvinenko spent nine months in jail on charges of abuse of office, for which he was ultimately acquitted. He then fled to Britain, where he was granted asylum.

In the latest case, he stands accused of beating a suspect during an interrogation. Russian officials say he will be tried in absentia.

Litvinenko, who joined the FSB's predecessor, the KGB, in 1988, says he witnessed a slew of illegal plots hatched within the security service -- most notably to kill Berezovsky.

By the time of the apartment-house bombings, Litvinenko was long out of the agency. He acknowledges he has no proof Putin was involved but believes he must have known the truth.

Litvinenko and other government critics base their allegations on an incident in the city of Ryazan in September 1999, shortly after the bombings. Police there discovered what they took to be explosives in an apartment building basement and ordered an evacuation. Afterward, FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev said the alleged explosives were only sacks of sugar planted as part of an anti-terrorism drill.

"I have direct proof that in Ryazan there was not sugar in the building, but hexogen; that the explosive device was not a dummy, but real; and that the explosive device was put there by FSB officers on instructions from their superiors," Litvinenko said. Hexogen was the explosive used in the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings.

The Prosecutor General's Office said Tuesday that it completed its own probe of the Ryazan affair on April 6, 2000, without looking at Litvinenko's evidence, and it confirmed Patrushev's version.

As for the Chechen rebels, Litvinenko said the FSB missed its chance to uncover their activities. He said that in 1995 he recruited a Chechen agent to infiltrate a group allegedly connected to rebel warlord Shamil Basayev, but his superiors abruptly canceled the operation.

"If in 1996 they had let this Chechen infiltrate that ring, we would have known for sure if it was the Chechens who blew up the houses," he said.