As the diplomatic showdown between Russian and Denmark enters its third week, the possibility that Akhmed Zakhaev, currently under arrest in Copenhagen, will be extradited to Russia grows more remote, according to sources in the Danish capital.
A Danish court ruled on Nov. 12 to keep Zakhaev under arrest for another two weeks until a filing ruling on extradition. Zakhaev's lawyers immediately filed an appeal.
Akhmed Zakhaev was arrested on Oct. 30 in his hotel room in Copenhagen on charges brought forth by Russian authorities that he was involved in the hostage crisis in Moscow that resulted in the deaths of over 120 theater-goers and some 41 hostages.
Zakhaev, a trained actor and currently in charge of foreign affairs of the Chechen independence movement in exile, was in Copenhagen to take part in the Chechen World Congress.
The local political opposition in Denmark has tried to get the government to admit mistakes in dealing with the Russian request, sent through Interpol, as well as for subsequent events which have caused bilateral relations to plummet.
According to Danish commentators, the Zakhaev case illustrates a dilemma in the international alliance against terrorism that followed after Sept. 11, namely, how to distinguish between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.
Russian opinion leaves no doubt that Zakhaev is a terrorist, even though the Russian authorities haven't been able to connect him with the Chechen terrorists who held 700 people hostages in the center of Moscow.
In addition to the hostage incident, Danish authorities have received a number of petitions from their Russian counterparts requesting the arrest of Zakhaev.
Zakhaev is charged with offenses committed in Chechnya from 1996 to 1999, including the formation of an illegal armed unit, participation in armed rebellion, and the killing of law enforcement officers.
Based on a preliminary examination, the Danish Ministry of Justice found that the information communicated by the Russian authorities is insufficient. Lene Espersen, Danish minister of justice, was presented 60 pages of documents supposedly linking Zakhaev to terrorism during a visit to Moscow last week. In the new material Zakhaev is accused of being part of a terrorist gang, which has kidnapped and murdered civilians, including pregnant women and priests.
Legal experts have already dismissed the new material as "inadequate" and "lacking in substance."
Human Rights Watch, the human rights organization which has documented all war crimes committed by both sides since the Chechen conflict began, said it had no evidence that Zakhaev had ever been involved in terrorism.
Professor Eva Smith, a legal affairs expert at Copenhagen University, told The Copenhagen Post that there was still a long way to go before any possibility of extradition. The Russians will have to provide names of victims and perpetrators and evidence linking Zakhaev to specific acts of terrorism if this case is to proceed.
Also, Zakhaev might use the opporunity to seek asylum in Denmark. If he chose to do so, which he could under the Dublin Convention, he would be deported to Belgium or Great Britain, where his case would subsequently be considered.
A spokesman for the Danish Immigration Service says that Zakhaev has a good chance of being granted asylum, as 79 Russians have been granted asylum in Denmark this year. There are no precise figures as to how many of them are Chechens.