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Chechen Leader Tried in Dagestan


One of Chechnya's top rebel leaders is being tried on charges of hostage-taking and murder. The trial is taking place in the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Salman Raduyev is accused of leading a raid on a hospital in the republic of Dagestan in 1996.

Prosecutors say he took hundreds of patients, doctors, and nurses hostage in the raid, and then used them as shields to protect him in his attempt to flee to neighboring Chechnya.

Russian soldiers initially cut off the escape route and an eight-day gun battle ensued. According to prosecutors, 78 Russian soldiers, police officers, and civilians were killed during the raid. But Mr. Raduyev succeeded in escaping to Chechnya.

He was arrested last year in a special military operation in Novogroznensky, a city about 40 kilometers from the Chechen capital Grozny. He is the most important Chechen rebel leader to be captured.

The Dagestani capital of Makhachkala is under tight security for the trial. Mr. Raduyev and three of the 300 men charged with taking part in the raid were brought to the courthouse in an armored convoy and the street in front of the courthouse has been closed.

Russian television showed pictures of the Chechen leader wearing a black baseball cap, dark glasses, and a long beard.

Russian forces first invaded Chechnya in 1994, but withdrew after a humiliating defeat two years later. They re-entered the country in 1999 following incursions by Chechen rebels into neighboring Dagestan and a series of apartment bombings that Russia blamed on Chechen rebels.

The Russian military says it has the situation in Chechnya under control, but Russian troops, Chechen fighters, and civilians die every day in Chechnya.

Mr. Raduyev's trial is expected to last for several months.