Accessibility links

Breaking News

Suspect In Imam's Shooting In Sweden Linked To Uzbek Soccer Club

Obidkhon Qori Nazarov was shot at least three times in the town of Stromsund, where he lives, and suffers from brain damage as a result of the attack, according to relatives.

A Swedish prosecutor says an Uzbek suspect in the 2012 assassination attempt on an outspoken emigre cleric was allowed into the European Union on the basis of a letter of support from Uzbekistan's leading soccer club ahead of the attack.

Prosecutor Krister Petersson told RFE/RL on September 4 that the suspect, Yury Zhukovsky, received a visa to enter Estonia in 2011 due to an official letter signed by the general manager of the Pakhtakor Tashkent FK soccer club, Rustam Kupaisinov.

Kupaisinov, in his letter, confirmed that the suspect was a club administrator and needed to travel to Estonia for business purposes, Petersson said.

Petersson added that he had so far been unable to contact Kupaisinov to get details on the matter.

Kupaisinov told RFE/RL on September 4 that he had received an official request from Swedish authorities regarding the case and "informed corresponding organs about it."

Kupaisinov added that he could not be held responsible for possible wrongdoing by someone whose visa application he had supported, and he declined to give further details.

Thirty-seven-year-old Zhukovsky was extradited to Sweden from Russia on August 25 on suspicion of having gunned down Obidkhon Qori Nazarov, an imam who was granted asylum in Sweden in 2006 after fleeing Uzbekistan in 1998.

Nazarov was shot at least three times in the town of Stromsund, where he lives, and suffers from brain damage as a result of the attack, according to relatives.

Petersson said that Zhukovsky showed some willingness to cooperate and provided information during his most recent interrogation by prosecutors, on September 3.

Petersson declined to give any details, saying he was unable to disclose them as investigations continue.

But he added that Zhukovsky continued to deny any involvement in the attack.

In a previous statement to RFE/RL, Petersson suggested that "there is a lot of evidence and facts that point to the Uzbek regime [being] behind this."

Petersson questioned why he had received "no support" from the Uzbek government in solving a crime whose victim they regard as "a terrorist."

Petersson also said on September 2 that investigators were expecting the results of DNA tests for comparison with DNA samples found at the crime scene and on items presumably left by the attacker.

Nazarov was one of the most popular imams in Central Asia in the early 1990s and a thorn in the side of the government of President Islam Karimov, an authoritarian leader who observers say sees strong religious faith as a challenge to his control.

Nazarov left Tashkent for Kazakhstan after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of religious extremism and terrorism in 1998.

In March 2006, he arrived in Sweden, where he received political asylum after UN officials concluded that Nazarov was a victim of political persecution by the Uzbek authorities and needed to be protected.

Tashkent continued to seek Nazarov's extradition at the time, also accusing him of helping organize -- from abroad -- deadly bombings near the government building in Tashkent in February 1999.

Swedish authorities have already tried a married Uzbek couple they accused of involvement in the gun attack on Nazarov, but a court in the northern town of Ostersund in July 2012 found them not guilty.

The couple reportedly testified to having helped someone locate Nazarov, and to having visited the mosque in Stromsund where he served as imam.

The suspect in the shooting was identified in court papers as "Jukovskiy," a variant of the Latin spelling of the name Zhukovsky.

Petersson told RFE/RL that the couple, identified as Bahodir Pulatov and Nodira Aminova, had left Sweden for Uzbekistan earlier this year -- a development that would prevent them from testifying in person if Zhukovsky is tried.

On September 4, a bomb exploded near the Tokhtaboy Mosque in Tashkent, where Nazarov used to serve as the chief cleric.

Nobody was hurt in that explosion, which occurred after Friday Prayers, and no one initially claimed responsibility.