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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Helped Qatar Make the Arrests

The United States assisted Qatar in the investigation that led to the arrest last month of three Russian special service agents accused of killing former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a senior U.S. diplomat said in an interview published Monday.

"We provided Qatar with very insignificant technical assistance," U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, who is on a working visit to Moscow, told Vremya Novostei.

Pifer, who is responsible for European and Eurasian affairs, said the Qataris did most of the work investigating the killing of Yandarbiyev, who died when a bomb ripped apart his vehicle in Doha, the Qatari capital, on Feb. 13.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman elaborated on the nature of the assistance. "In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Qatar requested and we dispatched a small team of experts in the technical aspects of explosives," the spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said said by telephone Monday evening.

"We send many such teams in response to requests from governments in any given year," he said, playing down the U.S. role in Qatar. "The experts played no role in the arrest or investigation of any suspects."

Pifer's short interview was placed in the middle of the newspaper, and his comments on U.S. assistance in the Yandarbiyev case were at the end, but they quickly attracted attention.

"We are aware of the interview and are planning to react," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. The ministry planned to comment Tuesday, he said.

The head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachyov, said Russia should ask the United States, and also perhaps Qatar, for a clarification.

"We have to find out the scale and reasons for this assistance by the United States to the Qatari authorities," he said at a news conference.

"It is deplorable that the United States ... did not provide technological and political assistance to the international community when it was searching for this international terrorist," Kosachyov said.

At Russia's request, the United Nations last year put Yandarbiyev on a list of people suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, and the United States put him on a list of suspected terrorists subject to financial sanctions.

Yandarbiyev, who was president of Chechnya from 1996 to 1997, had been living in Qatar since 2000.

Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank, said the U.S. assistance to Qatar defied the spirit of U.S.-Russian cooperation in the fight against terrorism. "It's bad. One shouldn't behave like that," he said.

Pifer's statements, which came in response to a question about allegations that the United States had had a hand in detaining the Russians in Qatar, were probably meant to stress how little assistance the United States had provided, Safranchuk said. Instead, they were received as the first official acknowledgement of U.S. assistance.

"It was like putting out a fire with gasoline," he said.

Safranchuk and Akram Khuzam, chief of the Moscow bureau of the Qatar-based satellite television network Al-Jazeera, speculated that the U.S. assistance was most likely intelligence information on the three Russians who were arrested. The information might have contained details about their backgrounds and recent movements, Safranchuk said.

The United States might also have advised Qatar during the investigation, Safranchuk said.

Calls to the Qatari Embassy in Moscow and the country's Foreign Ministry in Doha went unanswered Monday afternoon.

Press officers at the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service said they could not comment on Pifer's statements.

The three Russians were arrested Feb. 19 on suspicion of planting the bomb that killed Yandarbiyev. One was released because he held a diplomatic passport.

Former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the other two were security agents who had been sent to the Russian Embassy in Doha to collect and analyze information related to fighting terrorism. He denied they were involved in Yandarbiyev's killing and demanded they be allowed to return to Russia.

On Feb. 26, Russian authorities detained two Qatari wrestlers traveling by way of Moscow, a move widely believed to be a tit for tat to pave the way for an exchange. The FSB said Friday that it was holding the wrestlers at its Lefortovo Prison.

Pifer and U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow met Monday with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak. They discussed Russian foreign policy and international issues, including nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and disarmament, Interfax reported Pifer as saying. Pifer also met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin to discuss the situation in Belarus, Interfax said.