. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Proceedings to Extradite Zakayev Begin in London

APDozens of people rallying for peace in Chechnya on Tverskaya Ulitsa on Saturday.
LONDON -- The British government said Friday that it had authorized the start of extradition proceedings against Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who is sought by Russia on charges of mass murder.

The Home Office said it had given the courts authority to hear the Russian case against Zakayev, an aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.

In Moscow, Justice Minister Yury Chaika said the decision showed "our message has gotten through."

"Britain has understood that terrorists cannot be one's own or someone else's," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

But the decision angered Zakayev's supporters, who include Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave. "A profound injustice has been done to the Chechen people. An injustice should not be done to their political representatives," said Redgrave, who attended Zakayev's hearing at a London court Friday.

Moscow has compared Zakayev to Osama bin Laden and says he was a senior Chechen rebel military commander who helped kill at least 300 servicemen.

Zakayev denies the charges against him. "I would like to say how grateful I am to the British court system, the Home Office and the Russian prosecutors," Zakayev said through a translator outside Bow Street Magistrates Court Friday. "The case going through the courts gives us the opportunity to show people how things really stand."

Zakayev said evidence would emerge during his case to prove Chechen rebels were innocent of the 1999 apartment blasts that killed about 300 people in Moscow and other cities.

"The Chechens stand accused of this crime," he said. "The Chechens are innocent of this crime."

At a brief court hearing Friday, Judge Timothy Workman ordered Zakayev to attend a hearing on Feb. 14, when the court will set a timetable for the months-long extradition process.

Workman ruled that Zakayev, who has been in Britain for almost two months, could remain free on bail.