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Chechen Leader Convicted on Terrorism Charges - 2001-12-25

A top Chechen leader was convicted Tuesday and sentenced to life in prison on charges of terrorism.

Salman Raduyev was convicted and sentenced on charges of terrorism, banditry, hostage-taking and other offenses. The Chechen leader became notorious in Russia for leading a raid in 1996 on a hospital located in Kizlyar in the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Prosecutors say he took hundreds of patients, doctors and nurses hostage in the raid and then used them to shield his retreat back into Chechnya. Russian soldiers initially cut off his escape route and a resulting gun battle lasted eight days.

Russian officials say 78 people died in the fighting, during which Raduyev escaped to neighboring Chechnya. The Chechen rebel has said numerous times that he was only following orders from late Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev.

This has been an important trial for Russian officials. With the exception of Raduyev, they have had little luck so far in apprehending and putting on trial Chechen rebels fighting in the breakaway Russian republic.

Three of Raduyev's co-defendants were also convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to shorter prison terms.

Security has been very tight during the trial, which began on November 15 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.

Russian television showed pictures of a bearded Raduyev, who was arrested in March 2000, wearing sunglasses and a black cap.

Russia fought a bloody war in Chechnya beginning in 1994 and ending with a humiliating withdrawal in 1996. The Russian military re-entered the breakaway republic in 1999, following Chechen incursions into neighboring Dagestan and a series of apartment bombings that Russian officials blamed on Chechen rebels.

The Russian government says peace is now returning to Chechnya, but Russian soldiers Chechen fighters and civilians die almost every day as fighting continues.