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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plastic Surgery Offered to Basayev Informers

VLADIKAVKAZ -- Stepping up their hunt for Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, the Federal Security Service said Wednesday that it would pay the costs of plastic surgery for anyone who gives information leading to his killing or capture, on top of a $10 million reward already promised.

Meanwhile, a senior prosecutor said a leader of the militants who took part in the Beslan attack last September had implicated the late rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov in the attack.

The FSB said Tuesday that it had paid out a $10 million bounty to people who betrayed Maskhadov, who officials said was killed last week in a raid by FSB commandos. The FSB reaffirmed that an identical sum would be paid for information leading to the death or arrest of Basayev.

An FSB spokesman said the informers -- who did not have to be Russian or even live in Russia -- would be offered a new identity and place of residence, Itar-Tass reported.

"The law enforcement agencies guarantee their safety, with the option of taking a new passport, changing their residence, and if necessary, undergoing plastic surgery to change their features," spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said.

The offer is in line with a new law that set up the country's first witness protection program. The law allows authorities to offer plastic surgery.

Basayev, who claimed responsibility for the Beslan school seizure and other terror attacks, is now seen as the most powerful rebel figure in Chechnya after a little-known former Islamic court judge replaced Maskhadov as the militants' leader.

Critics of the Kremlin's policy in Chechnya say the death of Maskhadov, a former president of the region who was seen by many as a secular moderate, could crush any hopes of a negotiated settlement. Authorities, however, say he was a terrorist and accuse him of backing the Beslan raid and other major attacks.

Nikolai Shepel, the chief prosecutor for the Southern Federal District, which includes Chechnya, said one of the leaders of the school seizure, who used the nom de guerre Colonel, had provided evidence implicating Maskhadov during his telephone talks with the authorities.

"They said that the negotiations on liberating the hostages or some other negotiations could be conducted only with Maskhadov, that they would follow commands only from Maskhadov and Basayev," Shepel said in an interview.

Maskhadov had repeatedly denied any part in the raid on the school.

Pro-Moscow Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov -- who heads a security force widely accused of committing abductions -- said the Chechen war would be "99 percent over" if Basayev were eliminated, Interfax reported.