updated 6/30/2004 4:54:11 AM ET 2004-06-30T08:54:11

A Qatari court on Wednesday found two Russian intelligence officers guilty of the assassination of a Chechen rebel leader and sentenced them to life in prison.

A life sentence in Qatar is 25 years.

Prosecutors had reportedly been seeking the death penalty in a case that had threatened to strain relations between Russia and Qatar, a tiny-oil rich Gulf state that is a close ally of the United States.

The Russian officers were arrested in the Qatari capital, Doha, in February on suspicion of planting a bomb that killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a former Chechen president and rebel leader, and wounded his teenage son.

Their trial began in April in Qatar's Supreme Criminal Court.

Defense lawyers have said their clients were detained and searched unlawfully at their diplomatic residence and were tortured into making confessions.

Russia has denied involvement in Yandarbiyev's killing and has said the defendants, who have not been officially identified, were agents gathering intelligence about terrorism.

Yandarbiyev, Chechnya's acting president in 1996-1997, had lived in Qatar since 2000. Moscow had sought his extradition on charges of terrorism and links to al-Qaida. The United Nations and Washington had also linked him to terrorism.

Despite strained relations between Qatar and Russia after the arrest of the two intelligence agents, the countries issued a joint statement after the incident agreeing to let the Gulf state's courts decide on the case.

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