Moscow on Monday called for the immediate release of four Russian diplomats taken hostage in Iraq by a group linked to Al-Qaeda which has given the Russian government 48 hours to pull out of Chechnya and free Chechen prisoners.
"We appeal to the kidnappers to immediately release the Russian citizens and ensure their safety," foreign ministry spokesman Mikhael Kamynin said in a statement.
The Mujahedeen Shura (consultative) Council, which groups eight armed factions led by Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility on Monday for the abduction of the four Russian diplomats and two US soldiers, in statements posted on the Internet.
The group said if Moscow's troops did not leave Chechnya, a mostly Muslim breakaway republic in the Russian Caucasus, it would have to "take the consequences".
Russian troops stormed Chechnya in 1999 after it was defeated in a 1994-96 separatist war there. The guerrilla war now raging in Chechnya causes almost weekly casualties on both sides.
"God enabled the lions of unification to capture four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill a fifth," the Mujahedeen Shura Council said in its statement.
It said the council's Islamic court had decided to give the Russian government 48 hours to "withdraw immediately from Chechnya" and "release all our brothers and sisters detained in Russian prisons".