Assassinations and Arrests

Recently, the former President of Chechnya, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, was assassinated in Qatar. Two Russian intelligence agents were arrested. Russia protested and promptly detained two Qatari wrestlers on their way to a sports competition.

The Gulf state of Qatar says Russia arrested two of its citizens after Qatar charged two Russians over the death of a former rebel Chechen leader. A Qatari foreign ministry official was quoted as saying two Qatari wrestlers were detained as they passed through Moscow airport on their way to Serbia […] to take part in a qualifying contest for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Russians deny their guys’ involvement, perhaps a bit too vehemently.

The announcement in Qatar that two Russian intelligence agents have been charged with involvement in the assassination of former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev has sparked official outrage in Moscow.

Russia’s acting Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has been broadcasting repeatedly on state-run television condemning the arrests as an act of provocation. According to Mr Ivanov, the agents are innocent. He claims they were in Qatar on legitimate business, gathering information for the international fight against terrorism.

But the suspicion that Russia’s intelligence agencies may be behind the killing is not new. The one-time separatist leader of Chechnya was one of Moscow’s most wanted men.

Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev was targeted by a powerful car-bomb as he drove home from Friday prayers in Doha on 13 February.

Just hours later —- as the former rebel president lay fighting for his life —- Russia’s foreign intelligence body was already denying all responsibility.

Spokesman General Boris Labusov insisted the SVR had not assassinated anybody abroad since 1959.

1959? And the Russians expect us to beleive that?

Somehow the Americans got involved as well.

Clarifying comments by a U.S. diplomat, a U.S. official in Moscow said Monday the United States played no role in the arrest or investigation of Russian intelligence agents held in Qatar on charges of killing a Chechen separatist leader.

Earlier, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, told a Russian newspaper the U.S. had provided Qatar “very insignificant technical assistance” after Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, former president of Chechnya, was killed February 13 when a bomb attached to the bottom of his car exploded.

[…]The statement by Pifer drew criticism from Russian lawmakers who questioned why the United States would help Qatar in the arrest of the Russian agents.

[…]Later Monday, after Pifer took part in non-proliferation and disarmament talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry, a U.S. official in Moscow told CNN “in the initial aftermath of the explosion, Qatar requested ,and the United States sent, a small team of experts in the technical aspects of explosives.”

The official said the United States has provided such assistance to other countries as well but added, “the experts played no role in the arrest or investigation of the suspects.”

In his interview with Moscow’s Vremya Novostei newspaper, Pifer denied claims that U.S. officials had met with Yandarbiyev last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin had made such a statement last fall.

Last week, in a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, CNN asked whether Russia believes it has the right to pursue or assassinate terrorists living outside of Russia.

Lavrov refused to directly answer, saying the question was “not for Russia” but should be considered “in light of actions by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

And the Russians are pointing fingers!

All this brings “nostalgia” for the cold war and for the PLO-Mossad war of the 1970s. Assassinations, bungled assassinations, arrests of agents, denials, and finger-pointing all used to occur with regular frequency at that time.

I can’t recall any specific cold war case which would be similar but one of the bungled attempts on the Black September guys I remember reading recently in Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Here is some more info about that specific case and other related Mossad assassination attempts.

In Lillehammer, Norway, on 07 January 1974, Mossad agents mistakenly killed Ahmad Boushiki, an Algerian waiter carrying a Moroccan passport, whom they mistook for PLO security head Ali Ahmad Salameh, believed to have masterminded the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics [Salameh was killed in a 1979 car-bomb explosion in Lebanon]. Following the attack, the Mossad agents were arrested and tried before a Norwegian court. Five Israeli agents were convicted and served short jail sentences, though Israel denied responsibility for the murder. In February 1996, the Israeli government agreed to compensate the family of Ahmad Boushiki.

[…] On 24 September 1997, Mossad operatives attempted to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, a top political leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. The assassins entered Jordan on fake Canadian, and injected Meshaal with a poison. Jordan was able to wring a number of concessions out of Israel in the aftermath of the fiasco, including the release of the founder of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, from an Israeli jail.

Ephraim Halevy, a nephew of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin [who helped to negotiate a peace deal with Jordan], became the new head of Mossad after two bungled operations led to the arrests of agents in Switzerland and Jordan.

Any cold war or legal history buff (Jonathan?) have any more cases of assassins from intelligence agencies getting caught or even punished?

POSTSCRIPT: The Qatari wrestlers were released and a Russian displomat who was briefly detained with the other two Russians has been expelled from Qatar. Also, the two Russian intelligence agents are going to have a multinational defense team of Russian, American and British lawyers. Their defense lawyers include former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and a former U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, Jerome Shestack.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. about Qatari wrestlers: this tiny peninsula in the Persian gulf that can even hardly provides its own drinking water, recently has started a massive attempt to recruit sportsmen from around the globe and put them in their national squads. It is very likely that the so-called Qatari wrestlers have been formerly the soviets citizens!

  2. Mike: It seems you are correct.

    Qatari wrestler Ibad Akhmedov was born in Azerbaijan. Coach Alexander Dubrovsky has both Qatari and Belarussian citizenship. A member of Council of National Wrestling Federation of Qatar, Nasser Ibrahim Midahi was also with them.

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