Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen separatist leader exiled in London, says a reported plot to murder him has not taken him by surprise.
In an April 1 report, Britain's "Sunday Telegraph
" said it had seen documents in which the MI5 security service outlines the assassination plot and expresses fears that Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, wants Zakayev dead.
Zakayev told RFE/RL that MI5 had warned him of similar threats in the past. "They regularly inform me about threats, new information, they advise me on how to act and what to do," he said.
"This has been going on for seven or eight years, so it was no news to me," he added. "It will go on as long as Russia retains its criminal regime, this is obvious to me."
According to the "Sunday Telegraph," Kadyrov ordered Zakayev's killing though a London-based middleman known only as E1.
Britain's top police official sought to expel the suspected middleman as a threat to national security in 2010, but judges have thus far allowed him to remain in the country, the "Sunday Telegraph" reports.
Some details are known about E1: he is a 45-year-old Russian who came to Britain with his family in 2003 and claimed political asylum from the war in Chechnya. He has six children and is believed to have served as a Chechen soldier.
Zakayev said he thought he knew the identity of E1, but did not offer specifics.
Kadyrov Link Rejected
Kadyrov's spokesman was quick to reject the "Sunday Telegraph" report as a fabrication.
"As far as any link to Russia, I can say it is complete nonsense and a lie, because nobody cares about Zakayev in Russia," Alvi Karimov told RFE/RL. "Zakayev is not a politician and certainly not the leader of any separatists. There are no separatists."
Zakayev himself cast doubt on Kadyrov's possible involvement in the murder plot. Chechnya's strongman leader, he said, had nothing to gain from his killing.
"It's not in his interest to destroy us. As long as there are people who fight for the Chechen people's right to self-determination -- and Kadyrov has a completely opposite stance -- as long as we exist, he is of use to the Kremlin," Zakayev said. "He understands this perfectly."
Russian authorities have long sought the extradition of Zakayev, a member of the unrecognized secessionist Chechen government, also known as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Britain has refused to extradite him to Russia, saying he is at risk of torture.
In 2001, Zakayev was put on a federal and international wanted list, accused of terrorism and murder.
Not The First Chechen Targeted
Some observers have voiced skepticism about the reported assassination plot. But Andrei Babitsky, a North Caucasus expert at RFE/RL, believes MI5's information is correct. "Zakayev is a figure who unites the advocates of Ichkeria, and this terribly upsets Kadyrov," he notes.
According to the "Sunday Telegraph," MI5 said E1 was also involved in the killing of Kadyrov's former bodyguard, Umar Israilov.
Israilov became a sharp critic of the Chechen leader and had filed a torture complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that explicitly named Kadyrov.
He was gunned down on a street in Vienna in 2009
while trying to evade capture by a group of four Chechens.
Written by Claire Bigg, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service