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Bloody Trail? Chechen Blogger Is The Latest Kadyrov Critic To Die Abroad

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Chechen blogger Imran Aliyev was found dead in Lille on January 30.

Imran Aliyev, a 44-year-old blogger from Chechnya, was found dead on January 30 in a hotel room in the city of Lille, according to French news agency AFP and two fellow Chechens -- an acquaintance of the victim and a Chechen opposition journalist based in France. Police have made no arrests but suspect the killing could have a political motive.

Aliyev was no friend of Ramzan Kadyrov. Under the pseudonym Mansur Stary, or Old Mansur, he regularly produced and uploaded onto YouTube videos critical of the Kremlin-backed strongman who has ruled Russia's southern Chechnya region since President Vladimir Putin appointed him in 2007.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a video blogger living in Europe, said that he had received information before Aliyev's death that a hit man from Chechnya had been sent to Europe to hunt Aliyev down.

However, Musa Taipov, a Chechen opposition journalist based in Strasbourg who claimed to have been in regular contact with Aliyev, is skeptical of that. Taipov told The Guardian that Aliyev had made many enemies in Ingushetia, a region neighboring Chechnya, for recent remarks over a border dispute between the two North Caucasus regions.

One thing is clear: Another critic or rival of Kadyrov has died a violent death abroad or apparently been targeted, one of many over the past decade or so. Here are some of the most prominent cases.

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili

An ethnic Chechen who was a Georgian national, the 40-year-old Khangoshvili had several brushes with death. In the early 2000s, he fought with Chechen separatists against Russian forces during the Second Chechen War. In 2015 in Tbilisi, he was targeted in an apparent assassination attempt. He survived with wounds to his arm and shoulder after facing a hail of bullets. Later in Ukraine, he was tipped off about another planned hit and went into hiding.

He arrived in Berlin in late 2016, possibly thinking he was safe at last. But on August 23, 2019, a man approached him in the city's Kleiner Tiergarten and shot him twice in the head, killing him immediately.

A Russian national, allegedly traveling under a false identity, was arrested as a suspect. Russia denied any role. Germany on December 4 expelled two Russian diplomats after federal prosecutors took over the case following the collection of evidence that a "foreign intelligence agency" was behind the slaying.

Two security experts told The Times of London that evidence pointed to a contract killing commissioned by Kadyrov. After the killing, Putin -- without providing evidence -- asserted that Khangoshvili had been a "murderous fighter" who was involved in several terror attacks in Russia.

Umar Israilov

Umar Israilov
Umar Israilov

A former Kadyrov bodyguard, Israilov was gunned down in Vienna on January 13, 2009, while trying to evade capture by four Chechens allegedly ordered by Kadyrov to abduct him and take him back to Chechnya. Israilov, 27, had been granted asylum in Austria in 2006 and brought a case against Chechnya's Kremlin-backed regional administration in the European Court of Human Rights.

Months before he was killed, Israilov told The New York Times that he witnessed Kadyrov and his henchmen torturing people suspected of abetting the insurgency that persisted in Russia's North Caucasus after the two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya. A Vienna jury in 2011 convicted three Chechnya-born men in Israilov's murder, though Lecha Bogatyryov, a Chechen policeman accused of pulling the trigger, managed to flee Austria after the crime and is believed to be in Russia. Bogatyryov was included in the United States' inaugural Magnitsky Act blacklist of accused Russian rights abusers.

Sulim Yamadayev

Sulim Yamadayev (right) with Ramzan Kadyrov's cousin and ally Adam Delimkhanov
Sulim Yamadayev (right) with Ramzan Kadyrov's cousin and ally Adam Delimkhanov

Yamadayev, who belonged to a powerful clan that rivaled Kadyrov, was shot in the head outside his apartment building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on March 28, 2009. The slaying came six months after his brother, former State Duma Deputy Ruslan Yamadayev, was gunned down in central Moscow.

Both brothers fought on the Kremlin's side during the Second Chechen War, and Sulim headed the Vostok Battalion, which was directly subordinate to Russian military intelligence.

Sulim Yamadayev fled Russia in late 2008 after falling out with Kadyrov, whose cousin and ally Adam Delimkhanov -- also a Duma deputy -- was accused by Dubai authorities of organizing Yamadayev's assassination.

Delimkhanov denied the allegation. A Dubai court in 2010 convicted two men -- a Tajik national and an Iranian national -- of involvement in the killing.


Slayings In Turkey

In September 2011, three Chechen men accused by Russia of terrorist ties were shot dead in an Istanbul parking lot. Turkish prosecutors said they were killed by Russian agents who subsequently fled the country.

Russian authorities allege that two of the slain men were involved in an attack in which a suicide bomber killed 37 people at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport in 2011.

The third was allegedly an associate of Chechen militant Doku Umarov, who led the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus from 2007 until his death in 2013. Three other prominent Chechens were killed in Istanbul in 2008 and 2009.

Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev

Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev

Yandarbiyev, a former Chechen separatist leader, died of injuries he sustained in a February 2004 bomb attack on his car in Doha, Qatar. Yandarbiyev, who was Chechnya's acting president in 1996-97, part of the time between the two separatist wars there, was wanted by Russia on charges of leading an armed revolt and had been living in exile in Qatar.

Two Russian intelligence officers were convicted by a Qatari court in Yandarbiyev's death and handed life sentences. The judge in the case said the officers had acted on orders from the Russian government, a charge Russian officials denied.

The convicted agents were later transferred into Russian custody to serve out their sentences, but they were reportedly freed. In 2003, the United Nations put Yandarbiyev on a list of people with alleged links to Al-Qaeda.

Said-Emin Ibragimov

Said-Emin Ibragimov
Said-Emin Ibragimov

Said-Emin Ibragimov, a former Chechen separatist official, claimed in 2014 that he was abducted in Strasbourg, France, and tortured by men he believes were Russian security agents exacting revenge against him for accusing Putin of war crimes in the Second Chechen War, which helped propel the Russian leader to power in 1999.

Magomed Ocherhadji

In a 2009 video posted on YouTube, a young Chechen man claimed that Kadyrov tasked him with assassinating Magomed Ocherhadji, a leader in the large Chechen exile community in Norway. The alleged would-be hitman, identified as Ruslan Khalidov, has said he was tortured and threatened in an attempt to force him to comply.

Ocherhadji told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in 2009 that Khalidov had told him of the plot against him. "I went to speak to [Khalidov] after he sent me a message saying that Kadyrov wanted me to be killed," he said. "Naturally, I was somewhat taken aback. He told me Kadyrov and his people view me as a threat. Because of me, he said, they are afraid to travel to Norway."

Adam Osmayev

A composite photo of Adam Osmayev (left) and his late wife, Amina Okuyeva
A composite photo of Adam Osmayev (left) and his late wife, Amina Okuyeva

Osmayev, a Chechen man accused by Russian authorities of plotting to kill Putin, survived an October 31, 2017 ambush near Kyiv that killed his wife, Amina Okuyeva. Both husband and wife had fought on the Ukrainian side against Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas.

It was the second apparent attempt on Osmayev's life that year. In June, a gunman posing as a French journalist opened fired at Osmayev in Kyiv, but Okuyeva fired back, wounding the man, who was reportedly a Chechen with a criminal record.

In 2012, Russia accused Osmayev of plotting with Islamic militants to kill Putin. Russia later asked Ukraine to turn Osmayev over but Kyiv refused, saying it would wait until the European Court of Human Rights considered his appeal against extradition. He was freed after 2 1/2 years in a Ukrainian prison.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists. 

     

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