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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Kidnappings Aimed at Maskhadov

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it believed the kidnapping of four foreign workers in Chechnya was intended to challenge the authority of the breakaway region's president.

The three Britons and a New Zealander, sent to Chechnya by a British company to install telecommunications equipment, were seized by gunmen last week at a time when Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov faces an internal power struggle.

"We express profound concern over the recent abduction of four foreigners in Chechnya," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said, reading a statement at a news briefing.

"The kidnapping of the foreigners ? can be regarded only as a challenge to the present Chechen leadership and to the world community by forces that have set their aim as opposing the efforts of Aslan Maskhadov's government to stabilize the situation in this region of the Russian Federation."

Part of Moscow's concern stems from spillover violence from the breakaway region that has affected other republics in the restive North Caucasus.

In North Ossetia on Monday, a factory director was shot and killed and his deputy seriously injured, Itar-Tass reported Tuesday.

Soslav Sumenov, the 36-year-old director of a corn-processing plant, was killed outside a house in the center of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, the news agency reported.

His deputy, Erik Tandelov, was hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds.

Sumenov had complained of threats and extortion attempts against him, and police believe the killing was linked to Sumenov's work, Itar-Tass reported.

Meanwhile, security forces in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, held exercises Tuesday to "improve their actions in different circumstances and contingencies," the chief of staff of Ingushetia's Internal Ministry, Shamil Dachayev, was quoted as saying. No other details were given.

Russia's Caucasus Mountains have been plagued by kidnappings and other crimes since the end of Chechnya's two-year war for independence ended in 1996. Hundreds of Russians and foreigners have been abducted by gangs seeking ransom, and dozens are still being held.

An official from the Russian government mission in Chechnya, Akmal Saidov, was kidnapped, tortured and killed last week. He was buried in Moscow on Tuesday, Interfax reported.

Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zorin, chairman of parliament's nationalities committee, called the killing a "brazen political assassination aimed at torpedoing all peace agreements signed between Moscow and Grozny," Interfax reported.

Maskhadov planned to meet with parliamentary deputies on Thursday to discuss the "political crisis" in the republic and opposition calls for the president's resignation, Chechnya's deputy premier Turpal Atgeriyev said, according to Interfax.

Maskhadov was also planning to meet with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on Saturday to discuss the increasing tensions. The announcement has riled Chechen opposition leader Shamil Basayev, who had led a five-day demonstration against Maskhadov in Grozny.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin said Russian forces were searching for the four kidnapped workers but did not know where they were.