Russia's FSB security service said yesterday that it had paid out a US$10 million reward for information that led to the location and killing of Chechen rebel chief Aslan Maskhadov last week.
"After a monetary reward in the sum of US$10 million was announced in September 2004 for information about the whereabouts of terrorist leaders, the FSB was approached by citizens who gave the necessary data," a spokesman for the successor service to the Soviet-era KGB told reporters.
"This aided in determining the exact location of international terrorist and Chechen band leader Aslan Maskhadov, as well as the carrying out of a special operation" which led to his death, he said.
"These citizens were paid the monetary reward in full. If necessary, they will receive help in moving to another Russian region or a Muslim country," he said.
"The FSB is ready in the future to assure the personal security and payment of any appropriate rewards to citizens who provide reliable information about the whereabouts of terrorist leaders," he said.
Russia announced the reward for information about Maskhadov, a 53-year-old moderate rebel leader, and hardline warlord Shamil Basayev after last year's Beslan school hostage taking, which killed more than 340 people, half of them children.
Maskhadov, the only rebel chief who advocated negotiations to end the decade-old conflict between Chechen separatists and pro-Moscow forces, condemned and denied any responsibility for the attack, which was claimed by Basayev.
Meanwhile, authorities said they blew up the house where Maskhadov was killed because they feared deadly booby traps, but rights activists and government critics questioned the motives for a move that added to the secrecy shrouding last week's raid.
Officials said last Tuesday that Maskhadov was killed during an operation by Russian forces in a basement bunker in the northern Chechen village of Tolstoy-Yurt, but gave few details of the operation.
Colonel General Arkady Yedelev, chief of the federal headquarters for the campaign in Chechnya, on Monday said demolition experts who inspected the bunker discovered and detonated a box that contained documents and was ridden with explosives.
"The team of investigators decided to blow up the entire house to avoid such surprises in the future," Yedelev said in a statement.
Federal troops arrived Sunday in several trucks and armored vehicles, ordered residents of neighboring buildings to clear the area and then blew up the house in a powerful blast, witnesses said.
A neighbor, who identified herself only by her first name, Zura, said the explosion shattered windows and cracked walls in her house. "It scared me and my children to death," she said.
While federal authorities said Maskhadov was hiding in the bunker, Yakha Yusupova _ who lived in the house with her family _ denied the rebel leader had been there and said she suspected Russian forces may have brought him on Tuesday.
Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian columnist and expert on Chechnya, said the house was apparently blown up to destroy any evidence that could cast doubt on official accounts of Maskhadov's killing.
"There is nothing left now to question the official version of events," Politkovskaya said in a telephone interview, scoffing at the official explanation.
"Can't they defuse booby traps without blowing up the entire house?" she said.