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Why Russia wants 'Enemy No. 1' Akhmed Zakayev back

Russia considers Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev, picked up in Warsaw today under an international arrest warrant, as 'Enemy No. 1.'

By Correspondent / September 17, 2010

Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev walks with policemen in front of the prosecutors headquarters in Warsaw September 17.

Reuters

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Moscow

Russia is demanding that Poland turn over Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev, who was detained in Warsaw Friday under an international arrest warrant.

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Mr. Zakayev, whom Moscow describes as "Enemy No. 1," had been placed on an Interpol "red notice" wanted list by Russia for alleged involvement in terrorist acts. Polish authorities said Friday they detained him as he arrived to attend an international conference of Chechens, pursuant to their international legal obligations.

Many analysts say Zakayev, an exiled former rebel field commander, has no involvement today with a movement that has shifted from separatism to militant Islamist ideology. In fact, the new Chechen insurgent leader has denounced him as a traitor. But the momentum for his extradition order is unchecked – if only because he remains, in Russian eyes, a symbol for a Chechen cause that has taken the lives of hundreds of Russian civilians.

"Zakayev was Chechnya's representative abroad in 2002, when the theater siege happened in Moscow, and he voiced his solidarity with the terrorists," says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "From that moment, Russia began to demand his extradition....

"It's understandable that in the West it may be difficult to distinguish between a separatist and a terrorist. Admittedly, we might have the same difficulty looking at foreign countries. But those [terrorist acts] caused deep shock and trauma here in Russia, and they are things our authorities do not want to forgive," says Mr. Makarkin.

Poland: We will not follow Russia's orders

A Polish court will determine in the next few days whether Zakayev should be extradited to Russia.

"The Russians have issued a warrant for the arrest of the Chechen leader. Because of that Poland has to take certain actions in accordance with the law. But it does not mean that we will follow Russia’s orders," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told journalists Friday.

"We will make a decision on this case, as well as other cases, based on our understanding of Polish state interests and justice, and not fulfill someone’s expectations," he added.

Zakayev has denounced militant Islamist ideology

Zakayev was a rebel field commander in Chechnya's first war of independence from Russia (1994-96), and served as international representative for the independent government of Ichkeria (Chechnya) during the second war, which began in 1999. Two years later he moved with his family to Britain, where he was granted political asylum in 2003.

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