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Denmark to Hold Senior Chechen Official for 2 Weeks - 2002-10-30

A Danish court has ordered a senior Chechen official to be held for two weeks on Russian charges he was involved in the Moscow theater attack that killed 100 hostages. But Danish officials say they are not likely to extradite the Chechen official.

A judge ruled that 43-year-old Ahmed Zakayev would remain in custody until at least November 12, to give Russian authorities time to present their evidence.

Mr. Zakayev was arrested earlier in the day at a Copenhagen hotel where he had been staying during a two-day conference of Chechen exiles. He attended the gathering as the personal envoy of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov.

That conference provoked an angry outburst from the Kremlin. A visit to Copenhagen by President Vladimir Putin for a Russia-European Union summit next month was cancelled after Denmark refused a Russian demand that the conference be banned. Danish officials defended their decision as a matter of free speech.

At Mr. Zakayev's court appearance, Danish Judge Lisbeth Christensen said there is sufficient reason to hold him for two weeks.

Danish officials said there is little chance the Chechen official will be sent back to Russia. Denmark's ambassador to Moscow, Lars Vissing, was quoted as saying there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.

At a meeting with reporters, Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen refused to rule out the possibility of extradition, but suggested it is not likely. She said authorities need to see evidence before making a decision.

Both the minister and the ambassador emphasized that no suspect would be extradited to a country where there is a death penalty.

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered a moratorium on capital punishment in 1996, but the law allowing the death penalty remains on the books. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a Russian Justice Ministry official as saying no executions have been carried out since the moratorium went into force.

Russian authorities say Mr. Zakayev is wanted in connection with last week's Moscow theatre siege, as well as other terrorist attacks from 1996 to 1999. But during the conference in Copenhagen this week, the Chechen envoy denied that he or Mr. Maskhadov had anything to do with terrorists.

Mr. Zakayev held several cabinet posts in the Chechen government elected in 1997, with Mr. Maskhadov as president. That government was ousted when Russian forces re-entered the breakaway Caucasus republic in 1999 and set up their own, pro-Moscow administration.