#13 - JRL 7238
Rights body says Russia faked militants crackdown
By Andrei Shukshin
MOSCOW, June 24 (Reuters) - Russian human rights activists accused the government on Monday of stage-managing a recent raid on Islamic militants to help portray Moscow as a keen player in the international war on terror.
Russia has embraced the U.S.-led drive to eradicate Islamic militancy across the globe and in return wants the West to recognise the legitimacy of its use of force in Muslim Chechnya, where Russian troops are often accused of rights violations.
In a showcase of Russia's commitments, the FSB domestic security service announced earlier this month the busting of an armed Islamic militant group. It said the number of arrests, 55, was the biggest in Russia's recent history.
But leading human rights body Memorial said the raid, which won ample media coverage, was merely a publicity stunt.
"Examination of materials obtained by Memorial shows that information provided by the FSB...is not true," Vitaly Ponomaryov, Memorial's Central Asia coordinator, told a news conference. "The arrest of 55 armed terrorists never happened."
Ponomaryov said witness reports collected by his group showed that 47 of the 55 suspects rounded up by police during the raid were allowed to go free after being shot on tape, some dressed only in underwear, lined up facing the wall.
Another six were freed the following day without any questions asked about their religious activities, he said.
"Criminal proceedings were opened only against two people, both charged with possession of arms and ammunition."
A spokesman for the FSB, which is conducting the probe, said he had no immediate information on how many people were under investigation.
The FSB initially identified the 55 illegal immigrants from Central Asia as members of the "Party of Islamic resistance" or the Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami, banned in Russia, Germany and elsewhere.
Ponomaryov said several hundred grams of explosives and detonators found in the beds of the two accused had been recovered without witnesses and both men denied having anything to do with them.
"There is also no evidence whatsoever that they were members of the Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami," he said. "It is alarming that this is not the only instance when the authorities turn a minor incident into a political event linked to the war on terror."