Accessibility links

Breaking News

Austria Probes Checkered History Of Chechen Asylum Seeker For Clues Into Possible Political Murder

Mamikhan Umarov frequently accused the Russian security forces of carrying out the assassinations of former Chechen separatists in European countries. (file photo)

Austrian police are investigating whether the murder of a Chechen asylum seeker outside the capital, Vienna, over the weekend was a political assassination or related to organized crime.

Police have arrested two Russians from Chechnya as part of a widening probe into the July 4 murder of the victim, only identified by investigators as a 43-year-old Russian man.

Local media reported he was fatally shot five times outside an automobile-repair shop next to a shopping center in the Vienna suburb of Gerasdorf.

Though Austrian police have not named the victim, sources in the Chechen diaspora have told RFE/RL that the victim was Mamikhan Umarov. He settled in Austria in 2005 and received asylum two years later.

Umarov, who was also known as Anzor of Vienna and had taken up the alias Martin Beck, was a former Chechen separatist and critic of Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Austrian police said they had offered Umarov protection, which he declined.

The main suspect, identified by RFE/RL as 47-year-old Sarali Akhtaev, was captured by police several hours after the crime about 200 kilometers west of the capital in Linz following a large-scale police manhunt.

Sarali Akhtaev, one of two men reportedly detained by Austrian police in connection with Umarov's death
Sarali Akhtaev, one of two men reportedly detained by Austrian police in connection with Umarov's death

Police have also arrested a second man, identified by RFE/RL as 37-year-old Salman Magamadov, whom they initially considered a witness.

Both men are Russian citizens of Chechen origin who received asylum after they came to Austria in the early 2000s.

Political Motive Or Argument?

An Austrian regional intelligence and anti-terrorism body is investigating the high-profile case. Roland Scherscher, the counterterrorism agency's head, said a political motive or an argument could be behind the killing.

In interviews and social-media posts, Umarov has said he was a former mercenary, who served in the security service under the separatist government that controlled Chechnya in the late 1990s between two devastating wars against federal forces.

Umarov frequently accused the Russian security forces of carrying out the assassinations of former Chechen separatists in European countries, and, in some cases, posted what he said were audio recordings of officials discussing such plots.

In February, he created his own YouTube channel, posting 30 video addresses to his subscribers over that time period, with the last one uploaded on July 2.

Most of his videos, which are conducted in the Chechen language, end with insulting remarks about Kadyrov as well as his family and associates. A majority of the videos received in excess of 250,000 views.

Umarov was expected to be a key witness in a Ukrainian probe into an October 2017 assassination attempt against Adam Osmayev, a Chechen commander who fought against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, but he was not allowed entry into Ukraine to testify. Osmayev's wife, Amina Okuyeva, was killed in that attack in Kyiv.

Around the same time of that assassination attempt, Ukrainian lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk of the nationalist opposition Radical Party, who had ties to Osmayev and Okuyeva, was targeted in a bombing that killed two people and left him wounded in Kyiv.

Umarov is known to have been in touch with Mosiychuk and had warned about the 2017 attack beforehand.

Rights Abuses

Rights groups have accused Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007, of numerous human rights abuses, including kidnappings, tortures, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and the targeted killings of political and personal rivals both in Russia and abroad.

In February, Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov was attacked in Sweden. He was able to overpower his alleged attacker and hand him over to the authorities.

In March 2019, the head of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov, declared a blood feud against Abdurakhmanov.

On January 30, Chechen blogger Imran Aliyev, also a critic of Kadyrov, was found dead in the French city of Lille. He had been stabbed 135 times. Prosecutors say they have identified a Russian-born man who returned to Chechnya immediately following the killing as the prime suspect in the case.

In August 2019, Georgian native Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a former Chechen separatist fighter, was shot dead in Berlin. Prosecutors in Germany have filed murder charges against a Russian national in that case and accused the Russian government of ordering the killing.

Austria's Kurier newspaper reported that police are also considering the Umarov case as possibly linked to organized crime or revenge by Chechen clans.

Umarov has a criminal history in Austria and became a police informant, the Kurier said. In 2017, he was among 22 Chechens who were arrested on weapons charges in Vienna.

He was also tied to extortion and insurance fraud in a case involving a blown-up pizzeria. He was in prison until late summer 2019, when he was conditionally released.