Andrei Babitsky, a Russian correspondent for Radio Liberty admired for his
hard-hitting coverage of the Chechnyan war, was straightforward and
matter-of-fact with me as we sat around a table in a Moscow kitchen in
March1997. He told me that it was well known that a local Chechen
intelligence commander was responsible for the murder of Fred Cuny.
"His name is Rizvan Elbiev," said Babitsky.
It was a name I had heard before - the first time from one of Fred's family who
had searched for him in Chechnya. "I started getting suspicious when this guy
by the name of Elbiev kept coming up," Cuny's cousin, Eric Shutler had told me.
"He supposedly had Fred's documents."
Shutler had joined Cuny's brother and son in the family's search - a search
that was ended when a Chechen source whom the family calls "Mr. X" told them
Fred Cuny had been killed.
"When `Mr. X' described where things took place, he used Elbiev's house as the
landmark," Shutler had said. "Everything was landmarked off Elbiev's house.
They know where the men were shot. Galina Oleinik (the Russian interpreter
with Fred's party) they don't know. But they do know where the three men were
buried - relatively close to the vicinity where all this took place."
There are many other pieces of evidence which, added together, point to Rizvan Elbiev. The first is a report dictated by Ruslan Muradov, the Chechen driver/security man who accompanied Cuny's group on their trip into Chechnya.
31 March: Cuny, Galina Oleinik, and the two doctors - Sergei Makarov and
Andrei Sereda leave Nazran (Ingushetia.) Cuny asks Muradov to take him to
General Aslan Maskhadov's headquarters (Cuny had met with General Maskhadov on
his first trip into Chechnya). They arrive in Bamut where the local
commander refuses to allow the group to move along the forest road toward
Orekhovo, which is now Chechen military headquarters. They return to Bamut
and spend the night with Muradov's parents.
1 April: The group tries again, and gets as far as the edge of the village
of Stary Atchkoi. "The roofs were visible. At that moment, we were literally
seized by armed men in masks, threatening us with weapons. We were forced
down, faces in the dirt, arms tied - and then they searched the contents of
the car. ...They took our documents. Fred, Galina, Andrei and Sergei were
blindfolded, were taken off in a car." Muradov was released and told to
return to the home of his parents.
2 April: A Bamut commander shows up at the home of Ruslan Muradov's parents
in Bamut with "who it seemed to me was one of those who had detained us."
They are told that the documents are in the Achkoi-Martan headquarters of the
local head of counter-intelligence, RIZVAN ELBIEV, and that Elbiev
"required that all four be sent immediately to him." After that, Elbiev
promised, they were to be taken to the headquarters of the chief of the
Chechen military, Aslan Maskhadov, whose headquarters at that time were in
2 April: In the evening, Muradov is taken blindfolded to where the group is being
held - on the edge of Stary Atchkoi. They all spend the night there.
3 April: The group is again blindfolded, and they set off along the
"forbidden route" - the forest road toward Orekhovo. The track is muddy.
After a second attempt to climb the rise that leads from Stary Atchkoi to
Orekhovo, they come under fire. They return to Bamut to find a vehicle that
can get them to Atchkoi-Martan. Once again, the group spends the night at the
home of Ruslan Muradov's parents.
4 April: Around 6 AM, a local commander shows up and says he's found a
tractor. Galina Oleinik, the interpreter, tells the captors that the doctors
should be released "as Fred has his own program." But the commander insists
that the entire group go; he's been ordered to send all four to Rizvan
Cuny dictates a note that Galina writes down. Muradov is dispatched to deliver the note to Slava Miklayev, their Soros-employed colleague in Ingushetia. Muradov arrives with the note in Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia around 6 PM in the evening.
"Everything that has happened has, of course, knocked us off schedule. It's most likely that we will be held up for two or three days. Please change the meeting with the American ambassador and
all the others."
But Galina Oleinik added her own postscript: "Everything above I
wrote under Fred's direction, and now - something for myself. We, as always,
are in deep shit. The situation does not depend on us. If we're not back in
three days, shake everyone up."
In August 1995 - five months after Fred Cuny disappeared - Cuny's family held
a press conference in Moscow, announcing they had ended their search because
they believed the group had been killed. They publicly accuse Chechens of
having murdered Cuny, but blame the Russians, as well, for circulating
propaganda which accused Cuny of being a spy. The family did not name a
murderer, and in fact, did not believe that they knew who was guilty. But the
family's background documents reveal they did, in fact, know more than they
realized at the time. In the family's confidential report about their search presented to the U.S. government, their evidence also points to Elbiev:
* On April 5, the group was delivered to RIZVAN ELBIEV. A Chechen to whom
the family spoke early in the search told them that the report he received was
that Elbiev had killed the group. One of the fighters who escorted the group,
and turned them over to Elbiev, was angry that Elbiev might have killed them.
...If they had been killed following the turnover to Elbiev, "The blood would
be on Elbiev's hands."
* "Each time a sighting was received, it was eventually proved false. The trail
kept ending with ELBIEV."
* And in the voluminous book compiled by Fred Cuny's sister-in-law,
detailing every aspect of the events following his disappearance, there is this
10 June. Memo to Chris (Cuny) from Eric (Shutler): "Events from last night's
meeting with friends: `...The man who took them said he turned the group over
to Elbiev. Three days later, Elbiev reported that he shot the group.
...Fred's captor went back to Elbiev and told him he would not be responsible
for what happened to them....'"
At the time, Cuny's family was hearing so many stories from so many different
sources - many of them connected with requests for money in exchange for
information - that this story did not stand out. However, several months
later, the family reports:
"The night we were packing to leave, August 14, we told Musaev (a former
Chechen fighter who had been the family's driver and fixer) that Fred was dead.
He then told us he knew that, but had not told us because he was not sure how
we would react to the news. He said he met a man named "A" - a quasi-commander
in the Bamut region. Musaev had run into him in the market and overheard talk
that Cuny had been killed. He pressured "A", who eventually told him that Fred
In mid-July, Musaev suggested that Eric Shutler talk to "A." However, a few
days later, he reported "A" had been killed. Musaev knew he was killed because
he was two cars back, in a caravan, when it happened. "A" was leading Ruslan
to the grave sight. Musaev reported that a single shot was fired and killed
"A." It seemed clear someone did not want the secret revealed.
In the family's discussions with their chief source, "Mr. X," the name of
ELBIEV came up again. "X" explained he got the information through a
disgruntled member of Elbiev's command.
In August, 1996, the documents that had been taken
from Cuny's group - passports, identification, personal notes - were found
wrapped in a bloody skirt in a pipe in the ruins of a house in Stary Atchkoi,
Chechnya. Fred Cuny's passport was among them; the passport of one of the
Russian doctors was covered in blood. Included in the papers was a note from
Cuny's interpreter, Galina Oleinik, addressed to the commander in chief of the
Chechen military, General Aslan Maskhadov. (Maskhadov is now the elected
president of Chechnya):
"Esteemed Aslan," Galina Oleinik wrote. "We tried to go through to you, with
the medicines and the two doctors we promised. Fred Cuny is with me, the
American whom you already know - who came in order to hold the meeting which
did not happen last time. I ask you to confirm that you are aware of us and
"With respect, Galina Oleinik. Soros Foundation."
With this last piece of evidence, it became clear that Rizvan Elbiev - who had
initially seized the group's documents - never passed them on.
And finally, there are other pieces of evidence which add
support to the tragic story of what happened to Fred Cuny and his colleagues:
* Early during the family's search, a U.S. Agency for International Development
employee, who was working in the U.S. embassy in Moscow reported to the group
that the International Committee of the Red Cross had heard accounts of the
execution of four people in Stary-Atchkhoi.
* Olivia Ward, the Moscow bureau chief of the Toronto Star, investigated Cuny's
disappearance. In her investigation, she interviewed a family in whose home
the group was held. There, they spent a last night - and Cuny was in an
"ebullient" mood. His companions were more reserved.
Ward's information makes sense when added to what Andrei Babitsky, the Radio
Liberty correspondent, reports: While their documents were being checked, the
group was allowed to live "more or less free." Then RIZVAN ELBIEV arrived,
told the hosts that the papers had been forwarded and he had received approval
for the group to move on. Elbiev said the group should be released to him and
he would send them on their way.
Instead, they were murdered.
When Andrei Babitsky was shown the note from Cuny's interpreter, Galina
Oleinik, addressed to General Aslan Maskhadov, he said: "This is perfect
proof. This was never sent on. It stayed in Stary Atchkoi."
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