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Berlin Police Seek Witnesses Of Russian Suspected In Killing Ethnic Chechen

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Zelim Khangoshvili, a former Chechen rebel, was killed on August 23 in Berlin in a midday shooting.

Police in Germany's capital are asking for the public's help in its investigation into a bold killing that may have connections to Russian intelligence.

Its homicide division on September 3 called on any witnesses to come forward who may have seen the 49-year-old Russian suspected of killing an ethnic Chechen Georgian national on August 23.

Additional information sought include the suspect's whereabouts in the days leading up to the killing, people who know him, and information about a bicycle and electric scooter.

A picture of the suspect in the murder case in Kleinen Tiergarten in Moabit, Berlin
A picture of the suspect in the murder case in Kleinen Tiergarten in Moabit, Berlin

Pictures of the suspect and two vehicles were provided.

The suspect was arrested shortly after fatally shooting Zelimkhan Khangoshvili with two gunshots to the head using a 9-millimeter Glock 26.

He was apprehended just as he was entering a crowd of tourists having earlier dumped an electric scooter, a wig he was using, and a plastic bag with the murder weapon into the Spree River.

German authorities have only provided the suspect's nationality and have not ruled out a political motive for the murder.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the assertion that the Russian government was involved.

"This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Russian government, with official agencies," Peskov was quoted by Interfax.

The victim fought in the Second Chechen War in 1999-2002 against Russian national forces alongside notorious field commander Shamil Basayev and was reportedly close to Aslan Maskhadov, who had briefly served as president of Chechnya.

The suspect operated under the alias Vadim Adreevich Sokolov using a passport whose number is linked to Russian security services, notably the GRU military intelligence, a joint investigation by German news magazine Der Spiegel, The Insider in Russia, and British online investigators Bellingcat says.

However, nobody exists with the name of the alleged assassin in the Russian national passport register, the joint report says. His real identity isn't known, Bellingcat says.

"Sokolov" traveled to Germany via France, where the joint investigation visited the Paris hotel that he listed on his visa application.

There, "a hotel receptionist, upon being shown a photograph of the suspect, said they had not seen this person at the hotel," the joint report stated.

Bellingcat said it was "puzzling" that the French Embassy in Russia issued the suspect an expedited multientry visa given that "Sokolov" had no "digital or data footprint in Russia, listed an incomplete or false address and employment data, had a freshly issued passport, and had not traveled to Europe at least since 2013."

The German government says the Berlin case is for local authorities but there's "great interest in a comprehensive investigation," AP reported.

German media have speculated that Khangoshvili may have been targeted by Russian security agents, and drew parallels to the 2018 poisoning in Great Britain of KGB double agent Sergei Skripal, who was allegedly targeted by the GRU.

A separate Bellingcat investigation alleges that three GRU officers attempted the murder of Skripal while also travelling with authentic passports bearing fake names. Two of the three officers that Bellingcat identified are wanted by the British authorities for questioning.

Russia denies state involvement in the poisoning.

In 2006, President Vladimir Putin signed an order that legalized the killing of people who live outside of Russia and who are deemed to pose a terrorist threat -- essentially, state-authorized assassinations.

With reporting by AP and Mike Eckel
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