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World - Europe

Four Western hostages beheaded in Chechnya

Clockwise from top left: Hickey, Shaw, Kennedy and Petschi  
December 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:09 a.m. EDT (1009 GMT)

GROZNY, Russia (CNN) -- The severed heads of four Western hostages were discovered along a road Tuesday, more than two months after the men were seized by gunmen in the Chechen capital of Grozny.

The hostages -- Britons Peter Kennedy, Darren Hickey, and Rudolf Petschi, and New Zealand's Stanley Shaw -- were engineers working for Granger Telecom, a British telephone company.

Their heads were found about 25 miles (40 km) south of Grozny and were identified by a bodyguard. Chechen government officials at the scene said four bodies had been found as well, but gave no further details.

In Grozny, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said the slayings were a major blow to Chechnya and its efforts to gain international recognition of its independence effort. He blamed the rash of abductions in Chechnya on unidentified "outside forces" and their Chechen henchmen.

Kidnappings have become common in Chechnya since the end of the region's two-year war for independence from Russia in 1996. But victims are rarely killed. This year, 176 people have been kidnapped, and 90 of them have been released, according to official accounts.

The four men found dead Tuesday had been living in an armed complex as guests of the Chechen separatist government while they worked to install phone lines across the breakaway Russian province. A spokesman for Granger Telecom in Britain said, "We have heard the reports and are obviously investigating, but there is nothing we can say at this stage."

Chechen authorities said they had several suspects in the abduction, but have failed to make any progress.

Maskhadov said he was saddened and angered by the news, and would send messages of condolences to the governments of Britain and New Zealand.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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