Ukraine's Odesa Oblast Appeals Court gave the green light
last week for the extradition to Russia of a Chechen identified as Adam Osmayev. Osmayev, 31, is one of two men suspected of plotting to assassinate Vladimir Putin on orders from self-styled Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov.
But acting on an August 17 recommendation by the European Court of Human Rights, to which Osmayev's lawyer immediately appealed, Ukraine's prosecutor-general has suspended
the extradition proceedings. The reason for that decision has not been made public. But in a statement
released last week, Osmayev said he confessed only under duress to the charges against him, of which he now says he is innocent. He also said Russian investigators told him he would be killed if he were sent back to Russia, and he warned the Odesa judges that they would bear responsibility for his death.
Ukrainian security officials apprehended Osmayev in early February, together with a relative who was subsequently released. (Some reports say it was his father, others, his brother.) They linked the arrest to an explosion in an Odesa apartment one month earlier in which one man was killed and a second, Ilya Pyanzin, an ethnic Russian citizen of Kazakhstan, was injured. The blast was reportedly caused by a bomb they were assembling that exploded prematurely. Osmayev was also living in the apartment at the time, and sustained serious burns in the blast.
Ukrainian authorities initially said Osmayev was wanted
by Russia's Federal Security Servce (FSB) in connection with what the Russian authorities said was a failed attempt in May 2007 to assassinate then-Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in Moscow. It was not until three weeks later that Russian media reported the thwarting of the purported plot to kill Putin, which Pyanzin had divulged under interrogation.
In film footage shown on Russia's Channel One on February 27, Pyanzin said he and the man killed in the January apartment blast, Ruslan Madayev, traveled to Odesa from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey on instructions from Umarov to "learn how to make bombs and then go to Moscow to carry out attacks on economic targets and...assassinate Putin." Pyanzin identified Osmayev as the explosives expert tasked with training them.
Osmayev for his part confirmed that "the final objective was to go to Moscow and try to assassinate [then-] Prime Minister Putin" in a suicide attack. Osmayev said he personally "would definitely not" carry out such an attack but that Madayev was prepared to do so.
Osmayev also said that while living in the United Kingdom he had maintained constant contact with Umarov, from whom he received instructions to recruit volunteers to stage terrorist attacks on top Russian officials. He said they planned to use explosives left over from the abortive May 2007 plot to assassinate Kadyrov.
Apart from the two suspects' testimony, however, the only material evidence to substantiate the assassination plot hypothesis was video clips -- of Putin surrounded by bodyguards getting into his car and of his motorcade traveling through Moscow -- that had been downloaded on a laptop found at the wrecked apartment where Osmayev, Pyanzin, and Madayev had been living. Investigators said the laptop belonged to Osmayev.
But in his statement last week, Osmayev categorically denied that the laptop was his or that it was he who downloaded the incriminating footage. Osmayev explained that he confessed to involvement in the purported assassination plot for two reasons. First, his interrogators tortured him by placing a plastic bag over his head, and in those conditions, he said, "anyone will confess voluntarily to having participated in the killing of [U.S. President John F.] Kennedy and the attempt on the life of Pope [John Paul II]."
And second, the interrogators told him that if he refused to confess, he would be handed over to the Russian authorities, who would kill him before his case ever came to trial, whereas if he did confess he would receive a lenient prison sentence (on charges of membership of a terrorist group, organizing a terrorist act, illegal possession of explosives, and causing damage to property) and would not under any circumstances be extradited.
Osmayev claimed that as a result of drugs administered to him since his arrest, he has suffered a partial loss of memory and can barely remember his childhood and adolescence, or his parents. Osmayev said the only things he can affirm with absolute certainty are that the laptop was not his and that he did not participate in organizing any attack on Putin.
He did not explain in last week's statement for what purpose he, Pyanzin, and Madayev were assembling an explosive device.
The man identified as Osmayev said that at the time of his arrest he was in possession of a passport in the name of Sultan Akhmedovich Dolakov, which Ukrainian investigators confiscated. It was under that name that criminal charges were brought against him in Ukraine. His wife, Amina Okuyeva, however, refers to him as "Adam." She has not commented on his claim to have held a passport in another name.
Osmayev also said he applied in April to the Ukrainian authorities to be granted refugee status and on July 30 formally renounced his Russian citizenship. Under Ukrainian law, individuals who are stateless cannot be extradited. Extradition is also not permitted in cases where the possibility exists that the person handed over will be summarily killed. Ukrainian authorities have rejected his asylum request, Okuyeva said on August 21. She added that he intends to lodge a similar request for asylum in Georgia or Finland
Russian terrorism experts have expressed skepticism about the claims that Osmayev, Pyanzin, and Madayev intended to assassinate Putin, noting that
the news of the alleged plot was made public just one week before the Russian presidential ballot in which Putin was elected to succeed Dmitry Medvedev. Not only is the case against Osmayev and Pyanzin based on dubious material evidence and on testimony that, at least in Osmayev's case, appears to have been extracted under pressure. There are two other compelling arguments for doubting the veracity of the assassination plot claim.
The first is that Umarov's fighters have never before launched a terrorist operation in Russia from a base in a neighboring country, presumably due to both security and logistical constraints. The second is that Umarov and his lieutenants who specialize in terrorist operations have never before recruited operatives from the Chechen émigré community, especially in the U.K., where Osmayev had been studying for several years. In England, Chechens are under close surveillance by both British intelligence and the FSB, which has had a strong presence in London dating back to the 1970s.
In addition, why should Umarov run the risk of trying to assassinate Putin at a time when, as Umarov himself pointed out
in his video address in late January, Russians themselves are increasingly taking to the streets to demand Putin's departure from politics? Would it not make more sense for Umarov to wait until the wave of protests in Russia threatens to escalate out of control, and then try to take advantage of, and compound, that destabilization?
The alleged plot to assassinate Kadyrov five years ago, in connection with which an arrest warrant was issued for Osmayev, is equally unconvincing. It hinges on the discovery
near a subway station in Moscow that Kadyrov's motorcade was scheduled to drive past a car containing an explosive device that had not been primed to detonate.
Moscow police initially apprehended two suspects
: Magomed Oziyev, from Daghestan, and Adam Damkhazhiyev, from Chechnya. One day later, the owner of the car purportedly carrying the explosive, Lors Khamiyev, was apprehended in Grozny. On the basis of his testimony, police then took into custody
two young Moscow-based Chechens, Umar Batukayev and Ruslan Musayev, and launched a search for Adam Osmayev. The flat in Grozny of Osmayev's uncle, a former Chechen cabinet minister, was searched
. After that, the names of Oziyev and Damkhazhiyev did not figure in updates on the investigation.
Prominent human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina
and Moscow-based political commentator Ruslan Saidov
each publicly cast doubt on the official claims that the men planned to kill Kadyrov by detonating the explosives in the car. A Moscow court sentenced Khamiyev
in April 2009 to eight years' imprisonment for planning an act of terrorism and Batukayev, a final-year law student who insisted that his arrest was "a tragic mistake," to five years for illegal possession of explosives. Madayev was acquitted