‘US helped Qatar to arrest Russian agents’
MOSCOW: The United States helped Qatar to arrest two Russian secret service agents on murder charges, a senior US diplomat said in an interview published on Monday, an admission bound to raise hackles in Moscow.
The two Russian intelligence agents, arrested last month, are charged with assassinating a leading Chechen rebel, the former president of the breakaway republic, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, in the Qatari capital on February 13.
“Concerning the arrest of the Russians, we provided minor technical assistance to Qatar but for the most part, the Qataris acted themselves,” US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer told the Vremya Novostei daily.
Russia has demanded that Qatar free the two Russian agents, denying that they had anything to do with the murder of Yandarbiyev, who died after his car blew up in Doha as he was returning home from Friday prayers. The affair has turned into a full-blown diplomatic row as Moscow in apparent retaliation detained two Qatari citizens in transit on February 26, and is reported to be negotiating for a swap.
The two men, a Qatari official with the Qatar Greco-Roman wrestling team and an Azerbaijani who has Qatari citizenship and competes for the team, were detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport carrying 7,200 dollars which they had not declared to customs.
The Federal Security Service (FSB, ex-KGB) said Friday they were being held in the high-security Lefortovo prison and the two would face “lengthy prison terms if convicted,” though he declined to say on what charges. Russia had accused Yandarbiyev of helping finance rebels in separatist Chechnya who have been leading a guerrilla war in the predominantly Muslim republic since 1999, at the start of the second Russo-Chechen war in a decade. —AFP