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Father Of Azeri Suspect In Moscow Killing Says Case Is 'Political'

SEYFALI, Azerbaijan -- The father of the ethnic Azeri suspect in a Moscow killing that has sparked xenophobic riots and dominated Russian headlines says the case against his son was "planned from beginning to end" and is "political."

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service within hours of his son's capture, Zahid Zeynalov said he did not believe that his son, Orkhan, could have been involved in the fatal stabbing last week of an ethnic Russian in Moscow's Biryulyovo district.

"I can't believe what happened. [My son] has been in Moscow for more than four years," Zeynalov said. "When I heard the news I got very upset. I said, 'My son could not do this.'"

He said "this is some kind of political case which was preplanned. What can I say?"

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Orkhan Zeynalov, 30, was detained by Moscow police earlier on October 15 in connection with the October 10 stabbing death of 25-year-old Yegor Shcherbakov. While details remain unclear, the ethnically Russian Shcherbakov was reportedly attacked after an argument over a girl.

The killer fled the scene, but images caught on surveillance cameras suggested he could have been from the Caucasus or Central Asia.

Police released a photo reportedly showing Orkhan Zeynalov, a suspect in the death of Yegor Shcherbakov, being apprehended in Kolomna, in the Moscow region, on October 15.

Police released a photo reportedly showing Orkhan Zeynalov, a suspect in the death of Yegor Shcherbakov, being apprehended in Kolomna, in the Moscow region, on October 15.

The incident pushed simmering tensions over migrants to the boiling point, leading to the worst race riot in Russia in years.

On October 13 a group of protesters, some chanting nationalist slogans, broke into a shopping center in Moscow's Biryulyovo district and smashed windows. Others tried to storm a vegetable warehouse that employs migrant workers -- reportedly including Zeynalov -- before they were pushed back by police.

Twenty-three people, including eight police officers, were injured in the clashes. Some 400 rioters were detained, but the majority were quickly released.

Police then turned their focus to migrants, detaining around 1,200 workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus at the vegetable warehouse in Biryulyovo on October 14.

RFE/RL spoke to Zahid Zeynalov and his wife, Yasemen Zeynalova, at the family's home in the village of Seyfali, located in the Shamkir district of northwestern Azerbaijan.

Orkhan Zeynalov during his army service

Orkhan Zeynalov during his army service

The region is known to send a particularly high number of migrants abroad for work.

Zeynalov described her son as shy and well-behaved. She said he had traveled to Moscow four years ago in search of work after finishing his army service in Azerbaijan.

Zeynalova also said her son had called earlier in the day before he was detained by police outside of Moscow.

"[My son] called us and told us that he did nothing wrong," she said. "There are only some suspicions. He called around 2 or 3 p.m. [Baku time]. He said, 'I am fine. I also hear what you hear on the news and I will go to [the authorities] to prove who is who.'"

"As I said, maybe this is a political game," Zahid Zeynalov added.

In the hours after Orkhan Zeynalov's detention, Interfax quoted a spokesperson at the Russian Interior Ministry as saying that the suspect had admitted his guilt in "informal conversations with operatives."

Advocacy groups have warned migrants from the former Soviet states of Central Asia and the Caucasus of a heightened risk of violence following the weekend incidents and amid a perceived uptick in ultranationalist sentiment.

RFE/RL reports that fear of reprisals has quickly spread throughout the country's migrant communities.

At least 11 million foreigners are officially in Russia at present. However, the actual number is thought to be much higher, as most are only able to find work in the shadow economy.

Written in Washington by RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash based on reporting by RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Gulnur Novruzova in Seyfali and other reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service