Four days after the killing of Chechen parliamentarian Mukhmad Askhabov on August 25, the perpetrators remain at large and uncertainty still surrounds their motive.
Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has ruled out two of the most seemingly obvious motives.
Askhabov, 61, was elected to the Chechen parliament in September 2016 on the ticket of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF). Prior to that, he had served as Chechen minister for property and land issues and held various posts within the regional presidential/government administration. In a statement expressing condolences, KPRF Chairman Gennady Zyuganov characterized him as “a man of profound intellect, with an impressive education" -- he had university degrees in law and economics -- "and inexhaustible energy.”
Askhabov was driving to Grozny on the morning of August 25 from his home in Achkhoi-Martan when his car came under fire from an overtaking vehicle. He lost control of the car, which hit a road sign and overturned. The perpetrators managed to escape.
Chechnya’s hard-line Minister for Nationalities Policy Djambulat Umarov immediately suggested the most obvious explanation for the attack: that it was the work of “terrorists,” an apparent reference to Islamic militants, who have perpetrated such drive-by killings in the past. But Kadyrov categorically ruled out the involvement of either “terrorists” or Islamic militants. He also declared that it was not a political killing.
Those denials are understandable insofar as either a terrorist attack or a political murder would reflect badly on Kadyrov personally at a time when he appears to have incurred the Kremlin’s displeasure by his handling of public protests over the show trial of two young men accused of planning to leave Russia for Syria to join the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
Investigators nonetheless consider that Askhabov’s death was linked to his professional activities. One of the dead man’s relatives told the news portal Caucasian Knot on condition of anonymity that Askhabov’s death was a total shock to his family, given that he had not received any threats nor had he been involved in any conflicts. That would appear to rule out a blood feud as a possible motive.
Despite Kadyrov’s denial, one explanation might be that the killing was the work of militants, possibly a sleeper cell of either the extremist group Islamic State (IS) or of the Caucasus Emirate. Given that the latter organization has not perpetrated any attacks in Chechnya for several years, most analysts have inferred that it is defunct. IS has not claimed responsibility for Askhabov’s death, although it was swift to affirm that the young men who attacked two police officers with knives in Daghestan on August 28 were acting in its name.