Russian secret agents held in Qatar
Two Europeans, detained a week ago by the Qatari authorities on suspicion of
having murdered Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Doha, have
turned out to be Russian security officers. On Wednesday evening official
charges were brought against the two. The Russian Foreign Ministry broke its
prolonged silence and demanded the release of the agents, who were carrying
out ''tasks linked to the struggle against terrorism''.
The Russian security agents, detained in Qatar on 18 February, have been
officially charged with complicity in murdering Chechen rebel leader
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Yandarbiyev was killed on 13 February when a bomb
destroyed his jeep after he and his 13-year-old son left a Doha mosque,
where they had attended Friday prayers. Yandarbiyev died immediately; his
son was hospitalized with wounds.
Initially, the Qatari authorities detained three Russian nationals, but one
of them was later released.
The Russian Foreign Ministry only responded to the arrest of the agents a
week later. In the early hours of Thursday Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
demanded that the Qatari authorities immediately release ''Russian citizens
held illegally and ensure their unhindered return to Russia''.
Remarkably, the ministry waited for as long as a week before it issued the
statement, obviously hoping to settle the situation through unofficial
channels. Officials at the Russian embassy in Qatar confirmed to Gazeta.Ru
they had been informed of the detentions immediately after it occurred,
though not by the local authorities, but their own sources.
The Russian ministry pointed out that ''the Qatari authorities have not only
seized Russian citizens by force, but in breach of elementary norms of
international relations they did not inform the Russian embassy of their
On Wednesday the Qatari ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Foreign
Ministry, where Ivanov made the following statement: ''On the night of 18-19
February in Doha, the capital of Qatar, the local special forces arrested
three Russian citizens visiting the Russian embassy on business. The arrest
was carried out using firearms and extreme physical force.''
Ivanov described the arrest as ''a provocation''. ''Our country has nothing
to do with the incident. Attempts by the Qatari authorities to shift the
blame for the attack on Yandarbiyev to the arrested Russian citizens have no
grounds - they have nothing to do with this incident. The insinuations of
the Qatari authorities cannot be assessed as anything other than a
provocation,'' Ivanov told the ambassador.
Interestingly, certain points in Ivanov's statement suggest that the Qatari
authorities did, in fact, have grounds to suspect the Russian pair of
Firstly, Ivanov admitted that the Russian citizens detained in Qatar were
agents of the Russian special services. ''In their status of being attached
to the embassy they were in Qatar on legitimate grounds and were there
without any breaches of local legislation carrying out tasks of an
informational and analytical nature linked to the struggle against
international terrorism,'' Ivanov said.
The minister also dwelt on Yandarbiyev's ties with terrorist networks and
accused Qatar's leadership of harbouring the rebel whose name had been added
to the UN list of the most dangerous terrorists.
''As for Yandarbiyev himself and his presence in Qatar, the following must
be noted: he was added to the UN sanction list as one of the most dangerous
international terrorists, for his crimes on Russian territory, and for
direct links with Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations,'' Ivanov said.
''In accordance with UN anti-terrorist resolutions, all states are obliged
to prosecute terrorists or hand them over to the country where they carried
out the crime.''
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, the former president of the self-styled Chechen
Republic of Ichkeria in 1996-1997, had lived in Qatar since 2000. He became
one of the most prominent proponents of radical Islam among the Chechen
rebels. During the hard-line Islamic rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan,
Yandarbiyev opened a Chechen Embassy in Kabul, and a consulate in the
southern city of Kandahar.
Yandarbiyev's murder occurred only a week after a bombing in the Moscow
metro killed 41 people. Vladimir Putin blamed Chechen rebels for the attack.