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Report: U.S. Helped Qatar Nab Russians

1 hour, 2 minutes ago

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW - The United States assisted Qatar's special services in the arrests of Russian secret agents on charges of killing a Chechen separatist leader, a top U.S. diplomat said in an interview published Monday.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, who was in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, told the daily Vremya Novostei that the United States provided "very insignificant technical assistance" to the Qataris in the February arrests of the Russian intelligence agents.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the United States sent a small team of explosives experts to Doha, the Qatari capital, at Qatar's request.

"We send many such teams in response to requests from governments," the embassy official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The experts played no role in the arrest or investigation of any suspects."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment.

Three Russian intelligence agents were arrested in Doha after the killing of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, the former separatist president of Chechnya (news - web sites). Yandarbiyev died Feb. 13 when a bomb went off in his car.

One of the agents, whom Moscow calls "embassy employees," has been released, but the two others remain in custody. The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied that the intelligence agents had anything to do with Yandarbiyev's killing and demanded their release.

Moscow warned that a refusal to free the Russian agents would badly hurt relations with the Persian Gulf nation, and Russian officials last month detained two Qatari wrestlers who were passing through Moscow. The Russian authorities have refused to comment on their detention.

Yandarbiyev had lived in Qatar since 2000 and Moscow had sought his extradition on charges of terrorism and links to al-Qaida. President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) claimed last fall that U.S. representatives had met with Yandarbiyev.

Pifer denied that claim in the interview published Monday, saying that U.S. officials had no contacts with Yandarbiyev last year.

The United Nations (news - web sites) put Yandarbiyev last year on a list of people with alleged links to al-Qaida. Washington also put him on a list of international terrorists subject to financial sanctions.
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