Chechens in Moscow complain of extra police visits, harassment

Friday, November 1, 2002

MOSCOW -- The day after terrorists seized a Moscow theater, taking hundreds of people hostage, police armed with automatic rifles came to Elita Usmanova's apartment and took away her two teenage sons for questioning.

Chechens in Moscow say they've been subjected to unannounced police visits, document checks and harassment since last week's hostage drama, which ended Saturday when Russian troops stormed the theater. At least 119 hostages were killed, all but two from an opiate gas used in the rescue effort to incapcitate the Chechen rebels.

Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has said dozens of people have been detained on suspicion of aiding the hostage-takers, but many Chechens and other dark-skinned people from the Caucasus region with no connection to the case have been caught up in the police dragnet, human rights workers say.

Usmanova said her police experience was chilling.

After checking documents and searching the one-room apartment Usmanova shares with two other Chechen families, the police demanded that her two sons, ages 14 and 16, come to the police station, where they were photographed, fingerprinted and questioned for three hours before being released.

Now Usmanova, 33, says she is afraid to let her children go outside for fear they will be detained again or attacked on the street.

The tension is just the latest byproduct of a bloody conflict that began after Chechnya declared independence and Russia responded by sending in troops in 1994. Thousands of people have been killed on both sides.

Some Chechens said the increased police checks reminded them of the atmosphere in 1999, after a series of apartment house explosions left more than 300 people dead -- attacks the authorities blamed on Chechen rebels.

This time, however, police are checking Chechens in their homes, not just on the street, many say.

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