the lost american WHO KILLED FRED CUNY?

by Sherry Jones[Jones is the producer of FRONTLINE's

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 Orekhovo.

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 Elbiev.

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 entry:

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 was killed.

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 our mission.

"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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