On June 10, 2008, a Chechen man walked into a police office in Vienna with an ominous claim: The southern Russian region of Chechnya's Kremlin-backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, possessed a list of 300 enemies who "have to die," around 50 of whom were residing in Austria.
The informer, 40-year-old Artur Kurmakayev, said Kadyrov had ordered him to travel to Austria to repatriate Umar Israilov, a former Kadyrov bodyguard who had received asylum there and had accused his ex-boss of torture. Kurmakayev said he saw the alleged kill list at Kadyrov's residence, and he warned that Israilov was in danger.
Seven months later, Israilov, 27, was shot dead on the streets of Vienna. The brazen daylight slaying heightened concerns about Kadyrov's alleged cross-border targeting of opponents, which Kadyrov denies. By that time, Kurmakayev, the seemingly prescient informer, had already left Austria. Authorities had rebuffed his bid for asylum, and Austrian police later said he was thought to be dead.
Kurmakayev, however, was very much alive. And he resurfaced this month as a key suspect in the shooting of another Chechen exile -- this time in Kyiv.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry last week confirmed to RFE/RL that Kurmakayev was the alleged gunman in the failed assassination attempt on Adam Osmayev, whom Russia accuses of plotting an assassination attempt against Kadyrov's boss, President Vladimir Putin.
Kurmakayev, known in St. Petersburg by the nickname "Dingo," has long had a reputation for landing in bizarre situations. And the June 1 incident in the Ukrainian capital's historic Podil neighborhood was a thematic culmination of his long record of collisions with the law and the criminal underworld: cars, guns, aliases, assassins, Chechen exiles, murky motives, and, ultimately, a woman who brought him down.
Born with the last name Denisultanov in the Chechen town of Gudermes, Kurmakayev was convicted of extortion in the twilight of the Soviet Union. It was in prison that he was given the nickname Dingo, the prominent crime journalist Andrei Konstantinov wrote in his 1996 book Banditsky Peterburg.
After his release from prison, Kurmakayev ran a few kiosks at a St. Petersburg train station, Aleksandr Gorshkov, another well-known journalist and editor in chief of the St. Petersburg-based news site Fontanka.ru, told RFE/RL.
He was also said to be a member of an ethnic Chechen syndicate, one of several groups of ruthless capitalists who battled for influence and money during the city's bloody gang wars of the 1990s.
Kurmakayev made a public splash in the early 1990s when he appeared on 600 Seconds, a lurid, popular television program hosted by journalist Aleksandr Nevzorov that shone a light on St. Petersburg's seamy side. In an interview in Nevzorov's cluttered office, Kurmakayev warned that a car that had been stolen from his associates should be returned immediately, saying that "things will end very badly" for the culprits if it wasn't.
"And there will be problems both for them and for us. But mostly for them," he told Nevzorov, who said "Artur" had sought him out for the interview to warn that "bloody payback" was unavoidable.
At the end of the segment, Kurmakayev gave out his personal telephone number.
"He was by no means a towering figure," Nevzorov told RFE/RL in a telephone interview on June 5. "But he stood up for his group."
'No Longer Alive'
Kurmakayev again fell afoul of Russian law several years later, fleeing to Ukraine to avoid prosecution for the alleged 1998 kidnapping of a St. Petersburg man. Ukrainian authorities handed him over to Russia, where he was later freed in exchange for the release of a Russian conscript held by Chechen separatists. He later married a woman and took her last name, though the union was short-lived.
He also co-authored a 2001 book titled An Oath On The Koran: A Chechen's Fate, advertised with a blurb about a man named Artur whipping a 17-round Glock handgun out of his holster.
It wasn't until several years later that Kurmakayev's name grabbed international attention thanks to January 2009 reporting by The New York Times about the slaying of Israilov, Kadyrov's former bodyguard, in Vienna.
The newspaper published a copy of Kurmakayev's statement to Austrian authorities in which he claimed Kadyrov had tasked him with returning Israilov to Chechnya and that he had seen the purported kill list at the Chechen leader's residence in Gudermes.
The Austrian Interior Ministry later corroborated that a Russian national had informed them about the alleged list containing "around 300 people."
Kadyrov has rejected critics' allegations that he is behind a campaign to eliminate his enemies abroad, and he has denied involvement in Israilov's murder, for which three Chechnya-born men were later convicted in Austria.
According to the Austrian indictment, Kurmakayev made contact with Israilov in Vienna and told him that he and his family would be fine if he dropped his complaint about Kadyrov and his government in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and returned home.
Peter Pilz, an Austrian lawmaker with the Green Party, accused authorities of failing to protect Israilov and Kurmakayev. In an April 2010 post on his website, Pilz posted an excerpt from a Vienna police document that stated that according to "local" sources, Kurmakayev was "presumably no longer alive."
Pilz, who did not respond to an interview request from RFE/RL, wrote in the same post that shortly after Israilov's murder, he spoke by telephone to Kurmakayev. He says the would-be informer said: "I told them everything. But they protected neither me nor Israilov. They wanted to get rid of me quickly. I know that my life is in danger. No one is helping me anymore."
But a month after Israilov's murder, Kurmakayev told a different story to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He denied that he had ever told Austrian police about the alleged kill list. He was merely recounting what Israilov had told him, he claimed.
Kurmakayev ended up in prison again in 2011 after he was convicted of stealing 7.5 million rubles ($132,000) from a woman he planned to wed through a marriage agency under the alias Artur Krinari. The victim in the case said the agency portrayed him as an "Austrian businessman."
He was eventually sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison, reemerging in the public eye in Kyiv last week, allegedly with a Ukrainian passport under the name Oleksandr Dakar.
Amina Okuyeva, the wife of Adam Osmayev -- the Chechen man whom Moscow accuses of plotting Putin's assassination and the target of the Kyiv attack -- says the shooter identified by authorities as Kurmakayev posed as a French journalist named Alex Werner.
The couple, both veterans of combat against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, met the man in a car, ostensibly to go to the French Embassy for the interview. The assailant, however, pulled out a gun and fired, hitting Osmayev twice in the chest, Kyiv police say.
Okuyeva said he fired a Glock -- the same weapon mentioned in the blurb of Kurmakayev's book.
She said she grabbed her own gun and fired back, striking the shooter several times and immobilizing him. Both men are currently recovering in the hospital and were placed under police protection.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said on Facebook that a "Russian trail" in the crime was "obvious," calling the shooting an "audacious and insidious enemy attack on patriots of Ukraine."
But Pavlo Danyukov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) branch in Kyiv, said on June 2 that there was no confirmed evidence of Russia's involvement in the attack, according to Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL and VOA.
Denis Terentyev, the journalist who co-authored the 2001 book with Kurmakayev, told RFE/RL that he had not seen his former collaborator in 15 years but that "at that time, he hardly looked like a killer."
In separate interviews with RFE/RL, both Gorshkov and Nevzorov -- the St. Petersburg journalists who have previously crossed paths with Kurmakayev -- called him an "adventure seeker." Neither said he was surprised when Kurmakayev's named surfaced in the Israilov case in Austria or last week's shooting in Kyiv.
"I would probably react the same way if I heard he had ended up at the North Pole or atop Mt. Everest," Gorshkov said.