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Qatar Arrests Russian Agents For Murder of Exiled Chechen

By Steven Lee Myers

The New York Times -- MOSCOW

Qatar has arrested two Russian secret agents and charged them with the murder of an exiled Chechen leader there, prompting a sharply worded rebuke from Russia on Thursday that accused Qatari authorities of violating international law.

In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied any Russian involvement in the death of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, the former president of the Chechen republic who was killed on Feb. 13 when a bomb destroyed his car in Qatar’s capital, Doha. It called the arrests “a provocation.”

The statement, released the morning after Qatar’s ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Foreign Ministry late Wednesday night, was the first public acknowledgment that two men arrested by the authorities in Doha last week were not only Russian citizens but members of the secret services.

“They were legally assigned to the Russian Embassy in Qatar, conducting analytical work in connection with countering international terrorism, without violating local legislation in any way,” Igor S. Ivanov, serving as acting foreign minister after President Vladimir V. Putin dismissed his government this week, said in the statement.

The arrests -- which Ivanov said involved “weapons and brute force” -- threatened to worsen relations that had long been strained by Yandarbiyev’s presence in the Persian Gulf state. They also provided a rare window into the clandestine world of Russia’s secret services and their efforts to strangle international support for Chechnya’s separatists.

A third Russian agent who was arrested has been released because he carried a diplomatic passport, Ivanov said in his statement. It was an unusual public acknowledgment that an intelligence agent served under diplomatic guise.

A secretary at Qatar’s Embassy in Moscow said the ambassador, Mohammed Saad al-Kobaisi, would not comment on the matter.