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Vienna Murder Suspect Wounded In Chechnya Attack

Three defendants in the murder trial of Umar Israilov sit in court in Vienna in November 2010. Prosecutors have linked the suspects to Chechnya's leadership.

Three defendants in the murder trial of Umar Israilov sit in court in Vienna in November 2010. Prosecutors have linked the suspects to Chechnya's leadership.

A man wounded on January 9 in an attack on Chechen members of the Russian Interior Ministry's 42nd Motor-Rifle Division has belatedly been identified as Lecha Bogatyryov, a Chechen policeman wanted in Austria in connection with the murder in Vienna two years ago of Umar Israilov, a former member of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's bodyguard.

Months before he was killed, Israilov had described to "The New York Times" how he witnessed Kadyrov and his henchmen torturing persons suspected of abetting the North Caucasus insurgency.

Three other suspects in Israilov's killing are currently on trial. The prosecution is convinced the killing was carried out on Kadyrov's orders, but Kadyrov has repeatedly denied any involvement, and his lawyer Andrei Krasnenkov has categorically rejected the possibility of Kadyrov traveling to Vienna to testify.

The Austrian police identified Bogatyryov, who fled Vienna immediately after Israilov's death, as having fired the shot that killed him. Bogatyryov's whereabouts remained unknown until late last year, when he was identified in Russian TV footage of a stage-managed gathering in Grozny to reconcile blood-feuding families.

'Proxy War'?

Why Bogatyryov, 35, should now have been selected as one of a team of two gunmen tasked with the assassination of 42nd Motor-Rifle Division company commander Lieutenant Colonel Bislan Elimkhanov, is not immediately clear. There has long been bad blood between Elimkhanov's men, who formerly constituted the infamous Zapad (West) Battalion directly subordinate to Russia's military intelligence agency (GRU), and the Chechen police and security personnel loyal to Kadyrov. Kadyrov enjoys the protection of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which has long been at daggers drawn with the GRU.

The attack on Elimkhanov was meticulously reconnoitered (from a car wash situated close to the entrance to the Russian military base at Khankala on the eastern outskirts of Grozny) and professionally carried out. The gunmen opened fire with sniper rifles from two different positions on Elimkhanov's Lada Priorat and two vehicles following him when they slowed down to turn in to the main entrance of the base. Elimkhanov's driver was killed; Elimkhanov sustained multiple bullet wounds.

Bogatyryov has denied firing at Elimkhanov and insists he was simply caught in a cross-fire. A second assailant, subsequently identified as Ruslan Tatabayev, reportedly wanted by federal police for knifing someone in a Moscow bar, was killed when Elimkhanov and his men returned fire.

Elimkhanov subsequently told the Russian daily "Kommersant" that his cavalcade was flagged down some 5 or 6 kilometers from Khankala by men in police uniform, one of whom was Tatabayev.

The attack was the second on Elimkhanov's life. The first was in September 2008, shortly after Zapad returned with its fellow Vostok (East) Battalion from fighting as part of the Russian military contingent deployed to South Ossetia.

Chechen police officials initially said the two men who opened fire on Elimkhanov's motorcade on January 9 were Chechen insurgents. Most of Zapad's members are Chechens from the northern Nadterechny district who never supported the Chechen insurgency. Elimkhanov's fellow officers suggested Elimkhanov could have been targeted by a personal foe; but it seems unlikely that someone with a personal grudge would have been in a position to pose with accomplices as police and flag Elimkhanov's car down shortly before the attack.

A third possibility, floated by the insurgency website, is that the attack on Elimkhanov was simply the most recent episode in the proxy war between the FSB, in the person of Kadyrov's men, and the GRU. A Zapad serviceman named Aslan Magomadov (aka Tyson) was implicated in an altercation in mid-November in Grozny in which a Chechen policeman was shot dead. Kadyrov called the dead man his "brother" and swore to exact revenge. But Zapad refused to hand over Magomadov, who subsequently fled Chechnya.

In light of Kadyrov's threat, it is conceivable that the already compromised Bogatyryov was tasked with the attack on Elimkhanov in circumstances where there was every chance he too would be killed when Elimkhanov's fellow servicemen returned fire. Bogatyryov's demise would thus have precluded having to hand him over to the Austrian authorities to answer questions about Israilov's death that might substantiate the suspicion of Kadyrov's involvement.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.