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Russia Gathering Evidence to Boost Case for Chechen Leader's Extradition - 2002-11-03

Russian authorities say they are preparing more evidence to send to Denmark as they pursue the extradition of a senior Chechen official detained last week in Copenhagen. The move follows the recent drama at a Moscow theater where 800 people were held hostage by Chechen militants.

Officials at the prosecutor general's office are preparing additional documents to send to Denmark concerning Akhmed Zakayev, a senior Chechen emissary.

The evidence is meant to strengthen Russia's case against Mr. Zakayev for alleged crimes, including possible involvement in the recent hostage-taking.

Danish officials have said they have not been provided with enough proof to warrant Mr. Zakayev's extradition to Russia.

That response provoked anger in Russia's Duma, or parliament, where the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee warned that the Zakayev case could have an impact on Danish-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, Danish media said Mr. Zakayev may formally request political asylum in Denmark.

Mr. Zakayev has been based in Europe for some time. He was in Copenhagen attending a conference of Chechen rebels when he was arrested.

Russia has sharply criticized Denmark for allowing the conference to take place, especially so soon after the hostage crisis ended.

But Danish officials said there was no legal basis for them to prohibit the conference, which was attended by some Chechens who live in Russia.

At least 119 hostages and more than 40 Chechen rebels died when Russian troops stormed the theater more than a week ago. Most of the hostages died as a result of a narcotic gas used to immobilize the Chechen militants.

Last year, Mr. Zakayev came to Moscow briefly to meet with a senior Kremlin official to discuss possible negotiations aimed at ending the war in Chechnya. Russia has consistently rejected international pressure to seek a political solution to the Chechen conflict, and the hostage episode seems only to have hardened the Kremlin's resolve on the issue.