Putin Blames Chechen Rebels for Hijack, Calls for Action

Published March 17th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Chechen rebels Friday for the hijacking of a Russian plane which ended in a dramatic rescue by Saudi special forces, and warned of new moves to fight international terrorism, said AFP. 

Putin, who flew back from a Siberian holiday shortly after Saudi special forces stormed the jet in Medina, said the hostage drama highlighted the danger posed by Chechen separatism. 

Three people, including a hijacker, died in the incident. 

"This tragedy reminds all of us, in Russia as well as the international community, of what the Russian army has to deal with in its antiterrorist operation in the north Caucasus," the Kremlin chief said in remarks broadcast on state-run television. 

Earlier, Russia had called on Riyadh to hand over the two surviving hijackers after directly linking the hijack to the nearly 18-month conflict in the north Caucasus republic. 

"Today it is already clear that this terrorist act in Turkey and Saudi Arabia was not the work of individuals but of Chechen terrorism," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS. 

Putin suggested that the Chechen rebels had turned to hijacking because they had been defeated comprehensively by the Russian army which launched its intervention in the southern republic on October 1, 1999, said AFP. 

Chechen warlords had "perfectly understood that they cannot resist Russia's armed forces out in the open," Putin said, adding that the "clever ones remain abroad, from where they organize hostile actions against Russia." 

The Russian leader said he had instructed top officials to develop "an effective strategy" to prevent future hijacks by "obtaining information in advance about the actions and plans of the bandit leaders, wherever they are, in Russia or beyond its frontiers." 

But a spokesman for breakaway Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov denied that the rebels were behind the hijacking, saying they would never target innocent civilians, the agency reported. 

A journalist had told Al Jazeera satellite channel over phone that one of the hijackers was who was seriously injured, died in addition to a Turkish passenger and a stewardess.  

The operation kicked off after the plane was refueled “for a long journey,” said the reports.  

Two of the hijackers were identified in Russia, Sufian Arsaiv and his son. The father is a brother to former Chechen minister Aslan Arsaiv.  

The hijackers have demanded that Russia end its war against Chechnya as a condition for freeing about the passengers and crewmembers after about 50 were released or escaped from the plane in the early hours of the day.  

The hijackers asked Saudi authorities to refuel the plane, but they did not say where the next destination was.  

Twenty-five Russians, 15 Turks and two people from the Maldives were among the hostages released early Friday by three armed Chechens who hijacked a Russian airliner to Medina in Saudi Arabia, the SPA news agency said.  

"Among those freed were 25 Russian passengers, 15 Turks and two people from the Maldives," SPA quoted an airport spokesman as saying.  

"Negotiators were in talks with the hijackers in an attempt to put an end to the hijacking," SPA said.  

The plane was hijacked shortly after it took off from Turkey’s Ataturk airport in Istanbul Thursday afternoon – Albawaba.com  









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