WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A senior Chechen separatist wanted in Russia for suspected murder, kidnapping and terrorism was arrested Friday in Poland where he was to attend a conference organized by the World Chechen Congress, police said.
Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in Britain, was apprehended “without any trouble” on an international warrant issued by Russia and was turned over to prosecutors, national police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said.
Russia accuses the 51-year-old activist of kidnapping and murder during a separatist war in Chechnya in the 1990s. Mr. Zakayev and his supporters have said the allegations are trumped up, and that he represents the political faction of Chechnya’s separatist movement and has no connection to the military wing spearheading the region’s insurgency.
Prosecutors were examining the Russian warrant and other documents before questioning Mr. Zakayev and deciding whether to extradite or release him, prosecutors’ spokeswoman Monika Lewandowska said.
Mr. Zakayev — who with his silver beard and impeccable grooming looks more the diplomat than guerrilla fighter — appeared relaxed, in white shirt and suit, as he arrived in a police car at the prosecutor’s office.
“He is approaching it all with a large dose of calm,” said Adam Borowski, a conference organizer who was with Mr. Zakayev at the time of his arrest. He told the Associated Press that Mr. Zakayev had learned he was wanted and was on his way to see prosecutors when he was picked up.
Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on national radio that decisions concerning Mr. Zakayev will be taken “in accordance with our understanding of Poland’s interests and with our sense of decency and justice, and we will not be trying to meet anybody’s expectations.”
At Russia’s request, international police agency Interpol had put out a “red notice” on Mr. Zakayev — the equivalent of putting him on its most-wanted list. An Interpol red notice is not a warrant, but shares one country’s warrant with other member countries.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said only that officials are closely following the situation and are in contact with the Polish authorities.
Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Russian Prosecutor General’s office, said her office is preparing to send materials on Mr. Zakayev’s case translated into Polish to support the extradition request.
Earlier this week Russian Ambassador to Poland Alexander Alekseev said Russia “has proof” that Mr. Zakayev had been involved in terrorism, and Moscow would expect Poland to arrest him if he came to the country.
In 2002, Russia tried to have Mr. Zakayev extradited from Denmark where he was attending the two-day World Chechen Congress. Danish authorities ruled, however, that Russia failed to provide sufficient evidence for his extradition, and Mr. Zakayev was released.
He then flew to London, where he was picked up on a warrant distributed by Interpol. British authorities eventually decided not to extradite him, instead granting him refugee statue saying that he risked being tortured if he was sent back.