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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Asked to Extradite Zakayev

APBritish actress Vanessa Redgrave, right, speaking Friday to reporters in London after posting bail for rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev.
In a continuing, sometimes embarrassing test of the Russian justice system, Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev was detained by British police for several hours upon his arrival in London but released on bail early Friday pending an extradition hearing.

Zakayev traveled to Britain from Copenhagen two days after a Danish court refused to extradite him at Moscow's request for lack of evidence. Zakayev, who spent 34 days awaiting the decision in a Danish jail, is wanted by Russia on suspicion of crimes committed between 1996 and 1999, including taking civilians hostage and ordering the murder of Chechens loyal to Moscow.

Russian officials lashed out at British authorities for releasing Zakayev.

"What if some other terrorist had come to London -- [Osama] bin Laden, who, like Zakayev, is under an international search warrant?" Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in Lisbon for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in televised remarks.

"And if bin Laden had said new terrorist acts were being prepared against civilian targets in the U.S., how would he be dealt with? Like Zakayev? Taken to a police station and then let out onto the street?" Ivanov said.

Zakayev, a top representative of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, has warned that continued military action in Chechnya would lead to more terror attacks like October's hostage-taking in a Moscow theater -- a warning that Russian officials have interpreted as a direct threat by the rebel leadership.

Zakayev on Sunday denied Russia's allegations against him and said he would continue to speak out for a political resolution to the conflict in Chechnya.

"This whole provocation started against me by the Russian prosecutor's office is aimed against my public political activity in Europe in the name of President Maskhadov and our leadership," Zakayev said Sunday in a telephone interview from London.

He said Russian authorities were trying to force him underground -- for instance, into hiding in an Arab country -- so that they could "spread anti-Chechen propaganda and classify everything they are doing there [in Chechnya] as the fight against international terrorism."

Zakayev was accompanied on the trip to London by British actress Vanessa Redgrave, his most high-profile supporter and a long-time critic of rights abuses in Chechnya.

"Mr. Zakayev is not a warlord and he is not a terrorist," the Oscar-winning actress told a news conference in London, Reuters reported. "I'm Akhmed's host. I'm his friend, I'm his guarantor."

Zakayev, himself an actor, said Redgrave has been host to his wife and the family of his son for the past several months.

Redgrave posted the £50,000 ($78,500) initially set by police as bail, but Zakayev said Sunday that no money had been paid yet. A London magistrate's court is to decide Wednesday whether to accept bail and allow Zakayev to remain free. Extradition hearings will begin after the British Home Office submits its official recommendation on the case, which it has 40 days to do.

The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said it would gladly provide British law enforcers with all the evidence it has against Zakayev, Interfax reported.

Zakayev said he had no forecast regarding the British decision, but scoffed at the work of Russian prosecutors, saying their failure to get him extradited from Denmark was "a big favor to Chechens and all of Europe" and an embarrassment to President Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership.

Zakayev's arrival in London promises to create an awkward situation for British diplomats and for Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has developed a warm personal relationship with Putin and is banking on the Russian leader's support for possible U.S.-British military action against Iraq.

So far, Britain's tolerance for Putin's opponents -- such as Boris Berezovsky, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, and former intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, who received political asylum in Britain in May 2001 -- has not done any visible damage to Russian-British ties.

But Zakayev's case will be the first major test of the close relationship forged between the two countries after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

An additional irritant for Putin could be that Berezovsky's New York-based Foundation for Civil Rights has bankrolled the bulk of Zakayev's legal expenses in both Denmark and Britain.

Zakayev said he was well aware of this tension.

"I am an additional headache for any European country," he said. "But I do not believe I will be sacrificed for the sake of international politics."

Zakayev did not say whether he intended to seek political asylum in Britain.

Russian officials have said that the international arrest warrant for Zakayev was issued originally in 2001. However, as late as November of that year, Zakayev was considered an acceptable negotiating partner for the Kremlin and met with presidential envoy Viktor Kazantsev to discuss the possibility of ending hostilities in Chechnya.

It is also not clear how the allegations against Zakayev can be reconciled with an amnesty passed by the State Duma in March 1997. A duty officer at the Prosecutor General's Office said Friday afternoon that no immediate comment on "such legal intricacies" was available.

Georgian television reported that one of Zakayev's brothers was arrested Saturday in Tbilisi during a massive anti-crime sweep targeting foreign citizens. But Zakayev, whose mother and three brothers live in Georgia, denied the report, saying his relatives' documents had been checked and found to be in order.