Akhmed Zakayev, the exiled foreign minister in the self-declared Chechen separatist government, demanded that the Mujahedin Shura Council release the four Russian Embassy employees without any conditions.
In a statement posted on a separatist website, Zakayev also said the Al-Qaeda-linked group's statement looked like an attempt to blacken the name of the Chechen rebel movement and a "provocation by Russian special services."
Russia's Foreign Ministry said it had not received any demands directly, but was actively trying to establish the authenticity of the reports.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded that whoever was holding the four Russians release them immediately and unharmed, urging them not to forget that Russia was a "true friend of the Iraqi people."
(chechenpress.info, Reuters, Interfax)
The Chechnya Conflict
The aftermath of a December 2002 Chechen resistance attack on the main government building in Grozny (epa)