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Britain Orders Extradition Hearing for Chechen Official - 2002-12-06

Britain has ordered an extradition hearing for a senior Chechen official wanted by Russia on charges of murder and armed rebellion. The man, Akhmed Zakayev, was arrested Thursday night after flying to London from Denmark.

British police say they detained Akhmed Zakayev on a 10-count Russian extradition warrant.

Police say Mr. Zakayev was taken to a West London police station and later freed. He is due to appear in a London magistrate's court on Wednesday.

The Russians consider Mr. Zakayev to be a terrorist, and they want to try him for leading an armed rebellion against the Russian Federation. Among the charges against him are murder, attempted murder and illegal imprisonment.

Mr. Zakayev's supporters deny he has committed any crimes, and they say the Russians want to prosecute him for his political beliefs. British actress Vanessa Redgrave told reporters she flew with him from Denmark and posted his bail. "I'm Akhmed's host," she said. "I'm his friend. I'm his guarantor. And there's a load of people who care about the Chechen situation and care that there should be peace for the Chechen people at last, and their rights and think that that's very important too for Russian people."

The human rights group Amnesty International has also taken up his cause, saying Mr. Zakayev could face torture and other abuses if he is sent back to Russia.

Denmark released Mr. Zakayev from custody on Tuesday, saying the Russians had not produced enough evidence to warrant his extradition.

He had gone to Denmark in late October for a conference of exiled Chechens held a few days after Chechen gunmen seized hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theater in a siege that ended with 129 deaths.

The Zakayev affair has sparked a major diplomatic quarrel between the Danes and the Russians.