LONDON — Britain released a Chechen rebel envoy from police custody Friday, drawing sharp criticism from Russia, which compared the man to Osama bin Laden.
Acting on a request from Moscow, which is waging a lengthy war against separatists in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, British police arrested Ahmed Zakayev when he arrived at London's Heathrow Airport from Denmark on Thursday night.
British police freed Zakayev on $78,500 bail early Friday, ordering him to attend an extradition hearing Wednesday.
Moscow was furious.
"What if another terrorist had come to London -- Bin Laden, who, like Zakayev, is under an international search?" asked Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, who was in Portugal for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"And if Bin Laden had said new terrorist acts were being prepared against civilian targets in the U.S., how would he be dealt with?" Ivanov said.
Zakayev has said the only way to prevent militant attacks in Russia is to hold political talks with rebels on reaching a settlement to the war in Chechnya. Russian officials say this shows that rebel leaders are preparing such attacks.
But actress Vanessa Redgrave, who posted his bail, said Zakayev -- an aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov and once a key peace negotiator -- is not a terrorist.
"He is one of those few men that exist on the planet who are leaders and live for the truth and live to work for peace," she said.