Tuesday, December 31 2002 @ 12:53 AM MSK
|ISTANBUL, Dec 30 - A Turkish court handed down an 11-year prison sentence on Monday to the leader of a group of pro-Chechen gunmen who held guests and staff hostage at a five-star Istanbul hotel for more than 12 hours last year.|
All 13 gunmen were convicted of "curtailing the liberty" of their hostages and of firing weapons in a crowded space but Muhammed Emin Tokcan's sentence of 11 years and 10 months was the longest.
Tokcan's 12 accomplices were all released after the court found they had served enough time in custody awaiting trial, according to the state-run Anatolian news agency.
The gunmen surrendered to authorities after holding more than 120 people overnight at the hotel in Turkey's biggest city. They said their action was aimed at drawing international attention to Russian military action in Chechnya.
It was one of the most high-profile recent examples of pro-Chechen raids in Turkey, where the militants are seen by some as fellow Muslims fighting an oppressive power.
Russia accuses Turkey of being soft on the militants. Tokcan is a Turk of Chechen origin who took part in the 1996 hijacking of a Black Sea ferry, also a protest against Russian attempts to bring Chechen rebels to heel that have now extended over two devastating wars.Tokcan and most of his colleagues from the ferry hijacking escaped from Turkish jails soon after being imprisoned, adding weight to the Russian accusations of leniency.