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Rebel Chechen Head Denies Killings

December 16, 1998

URUS-MARTAN, Russia (AP) _ A leader of a militant Islamic group in the breakaway region of Chechnya today denied accusations that the group killed four kidnapped Westerners.

Chechnya introduced a one-month state of emergency after the men’s severed heads were found along a road last week. It was an unusually gruesome display of lawlessness, even for Chechnya where kidnappings have become a lucrative business since the war with Russia in 1994-96.

The Chechen government has blamed Arbi Barayev, a warlord whose fighters are based in Urus-Martan, Chechnya’s second-largest city located 12 miles southwest of the capital, Grozny.

But Barayev’s second-in-command, Uvai Akhmadov, said ``accomplices″ of President Aslan Maskhadov were responsible for the deaths. He didn’t offer any evidence to support his claim.

``We didn’t cut the foreigners’ heads,″ Akhmadov said as his fighters patrolled the streets of Urus-Martan, guns in hand. Earlier they dug trenches around the town.

``We are ready for war. A true Muslim will go to heaven if he dies for his faith,″ Akhmadov said.

The four men _ three from Britain and one from New Zealand _ were kidnapped Oct. 3 while installing a cellular phone system in Chechnya. The government says they were killed as it was mounting a rescue attempt.

Maskhadov, a top rebel military commander during the war with Russia, won presidential elections in a landslide in early 1997 after Russian troops left. But he has been unable to impose his authority.

Update hourly