Rebel Chechen leader on trial
MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- Chechen rebel leader Salman Raduyev has gone on trial on charges of terrorism in connection with an armed attack that killed 78 people.
Raduyev, the most prominent Chechen separatist leader to be arrested and tried so far, also faces charges of banditry, hostage-taking, and the organisation of murders and illegal armed formations.
Russia's Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said the trial, which began on Thursday in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, was "a demonstration of the triumph of justice over terrorism."
When asked to state his job to the court Raduyev replied: "Commander of the northeast sector of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeriya."
The court was heavy guarded with snipers placed on rooftops while police patrolled the court precincts below.
Ustinov said: "We will show the whole world that terrorism can be fought not only with weapons, but also through the force of justice."
The Kommersant business daily newspaper said that Dagestanis were "unhappy to have the trial on their soil," fearing it would be a "pretext for new terrorist attacks."
Prosecutors said that dozens of witnesses would be called to testify.
But Imam Yaraliyev, the prosecutor in Dagestan, said that many of the alleged victims of Raduyev's actions had refused to participate.
"It is understandable," Yaraliyev said. "People don't want to remember. Despite the fact that nearly six years have passed, people still shudder recollecting these tragic events."
Raduyev, wearing a black baseball cap and dark glasses, smiled as court officials began reading the indictment against him.
Ustinov described the trial, expected to last for at least two months, as a "complicated matter." The process of reading the indictment was expected to continue for at least two days.
Raduyev is alleged to have taken part in an attack on the southern town of Kizlyar in 1996, when hundreds of hostages were taken at a local hospital.
Some of the hostages were then used as human shields for the gang's escape back into Chechnya.
The militants were blocked by Russian troops near the Chechen border where an eight-day gun battle raged before Raduyev successfully slipped back into Chechnya.
The indictment said 78 Russian soldiers, police officers and civilians were killed during the raid.
Three other defendants in the Kizlyar raid, Aslanbek Alkhazurov, Turpal Atgeriyev and Husein Gaisumov, are on trial with Raduyev.
Raduyev also faces charges in connection with an explosion in southern Russia in 1997 and taking police officers hostage in 1996.
He was arrested in Novogroznensky, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Chechen capital Grozny, in March 2000.
An Islamic court in Chechnya sentenced Raduyev to four years in prison in his absence for an armed uprising against the region's former president Aslan Maskhadov in 1998 but made no attempt to arrest him.
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