Ex-KGB Agent Presents Bomb Evidence
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MOSCOW (AP) _ A former Russian security agent presented evidence Thursday that he said supports his claim that the KGB’s successor agency was behind a series of deadly apartment-house bombings that thrust Russia into a new war in Chechnya.
In a video link from Britain, where he was granted asylum last year, Alexander Litvinenko said he had received a statement from Achimez Gochiyayev, who Russian authorities claim was paid $500,000 by a Chechen warlord to organize bombings in Moscow in 1999.
``The material that Gochiyayev gave us is extremely important for establishing the truth,″ Litvinenko said.
The purported evidence includes Gochiyayev’s admission that he rented space in the two Moscow apartment buildings that were destroyed in the explosions, at the request of a childhood friend he now suspects was an agent with the Federal Security Service (FSB), to store goods the friend was selling.
The suspicion implied was that some of the materials stored may have contained the explosives that destroyed the apartment buildings.
Gochiyayev has not been arrested and his whereabouts are not know. Litvinenko said he had received the statement through middlemen somewhere in Europe. He presented it in a television hookup with a meeting of an unofficial Russian commission investigating the blasts, which killed about 300 people.
An FSB official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Litvinenko’s evidence was untenable and could not be taken seriously, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. An FSB spokesman would not comment on Litvinenko’s accusations to The Associated Press.
Four apartment explosions _ two in Moscow and two in southern Russia _ helped prompt President Boris Yeltsin and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops into Chechnya within weeks. Three years earlier, Russian forces had pulled out following a disastrous war that left separatist rebels in control.
Russian officials blamed the blasts on Chechen rebels, though rebel leaders denied involvement and suggested the FSB organized them to justify the military campaign.
Putin, a former KGB agent whose tough stance against the rebels after the bombings boosted his popularity, was appointed acting president by Yeltsin in December 1999 and was elected president in 2000.
In the purported statement from Gochiyayev, he says that after the second explosion, he called police and gave them the addresses of two other buildings where he rented space, warning that he feared there might be explosions there too. Authorities said that they found explosives and timers in one of the buildings.
Litvinenko urged the commission investigating the bombings to ask Russian authorities to look for audio recordings of the calls Gochiyayev claims he made.
Litvinenko also said that a British forensic imagery analyst had examined FSB photographs purporting to show Gochiyayev with Khattab, the rebel warlord in Chechnya who allegedly paid him and was killed this year. He said the analyst, Geoffrey Oxlee, said it could not be determined whether the man in the photo was in fact Gochiyayev.
Oxlee confirmed that in a telephone interview, but said Litvinenko’s suggestion that Oxlee had concluded the photo may have been falsified was incorrect.
The chief of the public commission investigating the bombings, respected human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov, said Litvinenko’s information was ``of extreme interest″ but must be thoroughly examined.
Kovalyov said there was evidence for and against both theories of who was behind the bombings _ Chechen rebels or Russian agents _ and that it might turn out that neither is entirely accurate. He said the commission was not close to reaching a decision on its findings.
Litvinenko’s troubles with the FSB began in 1998 when he accused his superiors of ordering him to kill tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Litvinenko was arrested and jailed a year later on abuse of office charges but was subsequently acquitted. He fled to Britain in November 2000. Litvinenko has been closely associated with Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider and highly controversial figure who is now a fierce opponent of Putin. Berezovsky also accuses the FSB of complicity in the bombings and lives in self-imposed exile in Britain to escape Russian criminal charges he says are politically driven.
A Russian military court convicted Litvinenko in absentia last month of abuse of office and stealing explosives, and gave him a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence.