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'Everyone's Asking Who's Next': Chechens In Europe Warn Of More Killings

Another Chechen Exile Killed In Europe: What We Know
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WATCH: Another Chechen Exile Killed In Europe: What We Know

Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov says no one was surprised to hear that Mamikhan Umarov had been killed. "All the world knew [he was in danger]," Abdurakhmanov told Current Time. "Umarov himself knew it very well."

Another member of the Chechen diaspora in Europe, who asked not to be identified out of concerns for his own safety, agreed. "This murder, unfortunately, was predictable," the source said, describing Umarov as Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan's Kadyrov's "personal enemy No. 1."

"I heard that the 'Kadyrovtsy' were looking for a way to get him," the source said, using the term for security forces controlled by Kadyrov. "Now we are all asking ourselves who is next."

Law enforcement officials in Austria have not identified the 43-year-old asylum seeker from Russia who was shot dead outside Vienna on July 4, but word spread quickly among Chechens living in Europe that it was Umarov, a vlogger who was intensely critical of Kadyrov, the strongman who has headed Russia's Chechnya region for about 15 years.

If confirmed, Umarov's killing will add another name to a growing list of Kadyrov critics who have been killed or attacked in Europe within the last nine months.

In February, Abdurakhmanov himself was attacked by a hammer-wielding assailant as he slept in his apartment in Sweden. Abdurakhmanov was able to overpower his assailant and hand him over to the authorities.

Another Kadyrov critic – 44-year-old blogger Imran Aliyev – was found dead in a hotel room in Lille, France, in January. He had been stabbed more than 130 times.

In August 2019, an ethnic Chechen who was a Georgian national, 40-year-old Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was shot dead in Berlin.

Representatives of the Chechen diaspora in Europe told RFE/RL that authorities in Europe had been unresponsive to their warnings and appeals for help.

"We have the impression that the authorities think: the Chechens are killing other Chechens and working things out among themselves and it isn't a danger to our citizens," said Mansur Sadulayev, director of the Sweden-based human rights foundation Vayfond. "Although shootings in public places are definitely a danger. The assailant who killed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin last year and the one who shot [Umarov] did so in public places.

"You can't expect security from the police when migrations services are presenting residency, visas, and passports to pro-Kadyrov Chechens," Sadulayev added. "When they allow such people to live in Europe and don't react to warnings about threats."

At the same time, many genuinely persecuted Chechens "wait for asylum for years and live every day under the threat of being deported [back to Russia]," he noted.

What Is To Be Done?

"This is the third scandalous murder of a Chechen refugee in the last year," said Dzhambulat Suleimanov, head of the Chechen diaspora organization Bart Marsho. "There must be some reaction from this side. This chain of murders is itself a call for reaction."

Musa Lomayev, a Chechen refugee who lives in Finland, said there was only so much that law enforcement can do. "The European [security and intelligence] services know perfectly well that Kadyrov's critics are being targeted by his killers," he said. "But they can't do anything about the overall problem. The most they can do is put a target in a safe apartment and give him a couple of guards. That means the target gives up his freedom and lives in isolation."

Members and supporters of the Chechen community demonstrate in Vienna on July 7 after the killing.
Members and supporters of the Chechen community demonstrate in Vienna on July 7 after the killing.

Blogger Abdurakhmanov said Kadyrov and his agents had created a network in Europe for carrying out such attacks. "Of course, Kadyrov doesn't call someone up and offer them money," he told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. "There is a whole chain of intermediaries. The information is passed from person to person. There will be someone from Kadyrov's circle who will contact an intermediary and that intermediary will start looking for someone to actually carry the assignment out."

"As we can see from the recent killings and attacks, this network is operating and having successes," he concluded.

"In recent years, beginning in the late 2000s and the early 2010s, Kadyrov and the Russian secret services have rather successfully built a system of control over the diaspora both through criminal networks and through pressure on relatives [in Chechnya]," said Denis Sokolov, a Moscow-based specialist on the North Caucasus. "It would be a mistake to think there isn't a good number of agents in Austria, France, Belgium, and Germany. There is a fair number of people there who are willing to carry out practically any assignment -- either out of fear or for money."

The member of the Chechen diaspora who is cited above and asked not to be identified told RFE/RL that the risk of being caught and imprisoned in Europe was not enough to deter many of Kadyrov's potential agents.

"They understand that if they are sent to a European prison, it will be like a resort compared to Russian prisons," he said. "And in the meantime, a grateful [Kadyrov] will be taking care of their families."

'No One Is Safe'

In addition to critics and foes of Kadyrov, who was first appointed to head Chechnya in 2007 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, perceived enemies of Putin and his government have been attacked or died in circumstances that have led to charges of involvement by the Russian state.

"What happened in Vienna shows that no one [in Europe] is safe, unfortunately," Abdurakhmanov said. "The measures European countries have taken so far in response to these crimes are having no effect on Russia. Russia continues to eliminate its enemies in Europe and in other countries."

"It is clear that expelling a couple of diplomats in response to a political killing is not working," he added, apparently referring to measures taken in response to incidents such as the 2018 nerve-agent poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

"It is an ineffective measure that does not stop Russia. That means some more convincing actions must be taken."

Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by Anna Peisakhova of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. Alina Pinchuk of RFE/RL's Russian Service and Irina Romaliiskaya of Current Time contributed to this report

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