Police in Germany say they are investigating a media interview by a Daghestani Islamic State (IS) media activist living in Berlin and who has ties to Russian-speaking militants in Syria and Iraq.
Murad Atajev, 29, gave the interview to the Russian news website Meduza.io on May 22.
In the published interview, which was conducted using the Zello radio-style social-media platform, Atajev is quoted as saying that he is an "information aggregator" for IS.
But evidence suggests that Atajev does far more than merely pass on news for IS.
A popular figure on pro-IS social media, Atajev is known for his prolific posts and his connections to North Caucasus militants fighting alongside IS in Syria and Iraq, in particular those in the Chechen-led Katibat Al Aqsa faction.
Atajev is also involved with ShamToday, the unofficial IS media group run by Chechen and Daghestani militants, and which is heavily focused on outreach and recruitment. It was Atajev who announced the death of Ilyas Deniev, a leading Chechen ShamToday activist who was killed in clashes in Baiji, Iraq, last month.
"[Deniev] and I were talking literally just yesterday about future media projects, and now he's no longer with us," Atajev wrote on Facebook on April 16.
Atajev has featured in broadcasts made by ShamToday using the Zello walkie-talkie social-media platform (his interview with Meduza was conducted over Zello in a ShamToday forum).
Links To Recruitment?
German media reports indicate that Atajev has links inside Germany with individuals considered to be Islamist extremists.
Atajev is an imam at a Berlin mosque that is reportedly considered by the German authorities to be connected with recruitment to IS. Atajev himself has reportedly been interviewed a number of times by the police since 2008.
The Daghestani preacher is believed to have ties to Ismet D., a 41-year-old man of Turkish origin arrested alongside another man in January on suspicion of involvement in recruiting Turkish and Russian nationals from Chechnya and Daghestan to fight in Syria.
In connection with the arrests, more than 200 German police officers raided 13 homes in Berlin and elsewhere. The raids were mostly on close associates of Ismet D. and the second man, Emit F. the police said, and most were members of the same mosque in Berlin's Moabit neighborhood.
The German authorities alleged that those involved in the group had procured funding to help send fighters to Syria as well as for military equipment such as night goggles.
Atajev was not arrested in the raids, but ShamToday posted a three-minute video titled Berlin Spectacle on social media in which he films footage outside the mosque and talks about the raids.
Notably, ShamToday has carried out fund-raising using the Russian Qiwi Koshelek payment system, though it is not known whether these funds have been used to facilitate recruitment.
And in his interview with Meduza, Atajev was quoted as saying that Russian-speaking militants, and especially those from the North Caucasus, were highly valued in IS.
"They mostly act as stormtroopers, because they display heroism, they are persistent, experienced, and they have a desire to sacrifice themselves," Atajev said.
'They Mixed Up My Words'
Berlin police told BBC Russian on May 29 that they were investigating the Meduza interview with Atajev.
"The police in Berlin are aware of this article, which will be examined and assessed in accordance with the Criminal Code," the police said in a statement, adding that after the investigation is complete, the Berlin public prosecutor will be made aware of its findings.
Atajev complained about the situation on Facebook, saying that Meduza had mixed up his words.
The Daghestani claimed he did not simply say he was an "information aggregator for IS" but that he had told Meduza he was "speaking as an info-aggregator" but had not helped write the "news" material he was spreading.
The "Atajev Witness" avatar of Murad Atajev
In his social-media profiles, Atajev has attempted to reflect his claim of being a mere "information aggregator" by calling himself "Atajev Witness," a name that calls to mind the pro-IS Twitter account Shami Witness.
Police in Bengaluru arrested the man behind the Shami Witness account, Mehdi Mahroor Biswas, in December. At the time, the police described Biswas as an "aggregator" of IS news. Biswas has yet to be formally charged, though the authorities say they are preparing an indictment.
Like Biswas, Atajev has never actually traveled to IS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.
The Daghestani told Meduza that this is because he has been banned from travel outside Germany.
"I do not have the status to be able to travel freely. I am now in Germany and do not have freedom of movement. There are restrictions on the movement of certain individuals who do not have a good rank in the country. I would not flatter myself by saying I am on a 'stop list' but that's how it is," Atajev said.
As he waited for further news about his situation on May 29, Atajev seemed to believe he had done nothing wrong.
"We'll soon learn what the European principle of 'freedom of speech and thought' is," he told his followers on Facebook.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk