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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azerbaijan Hands 2 Chechen Suspects to Russia

Two suspected Chechen militants accused of mass kidnappings and killings in the rebel Russian region have been captured in Azerbaijan and turned over to Russian authorities, Russian television reported on Sunday.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russia's main Chechnya spokesman, told RTR state television that one of the suspects, Ruslan Akhmadov, was a member of a gang that kidnapped three Britons and a New Zealander whose severed heads were found by a highway in 1998.

RTR also aired excerpts of footage it said showed the other suspect, Badrudi Murtazayev, holding down the legs of a captured Russian soldier while another rebel slit his throat in 1996.

Television pictures showed Russian servicemen escorting the two men into detention, after a joint operation with Azeri security forces.

Azeri President Haydar Aliyev, speaking to reporters in the national capital Baku, confirmed the two had been handed over under a treaty on joint assistance in law enforcement.

RTR showed Murtazayev in custody, acknowledging that he had held a Russian prisoner while his throat was slit.

Yastrzhembsky said Akhmadov was part of a gang led by his brothers that kidnapped foreigners. These included the Britons and the New Zealander, who were in Chechnya installing a cellular phone system, and two Polish women scientists, released last year unharmed.

Russian news agencies said he described the capture of the two Chechen militants as a "major coup for the Russian law enforcement agencies, to be specific for the Interior Ministry.

"If other neighbours of Russia followed Baku's example, the tension in Chechnya could be relieved faster," he told Interfax, in remarks apparently aimed at Georgia, which Moscow accuses of harbouring Chechen rebels.

No details of the capture of the two men were disclosed.

Itar-Tass quoted Russian interior ministry sources as saying Akhmadov faced charges of murder, kidnapping and illegal arms trafficking. The sources said he and his nine brothers had carried out 34 kidnappings since 1996 and that he himself was suspected of having killed three of the hostages.

Russia withdrew from Chechnya after a humiliating defeat in a 1994-96 war against separatists. Its troops now maintain a tenuous hold on the region 18 months into a second offensive but are subject to constant ambushes, particularly in mountainous areas south of the devastated regional capital Grozny.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said the intervention was necessary to halt lawlessness in Chechnya, particularly kidnappings and violence, often committed against foreigners.