A Chechen assassination programme?
4th April 2009 16:30
In the past six months, a string of Chechen males have been gunned down in Moscow, Istanbul, Vienna and now Dubai. In each case, a hit man or hit men hunted their prey and dispatched their victims in scenes that could have been taken straight from a Hollywood film. Bullets struck victims while they were in their cars, while they were in underground parking lots, and even when they were out shopping. The victims all had one thing in common: they were on the wrong side of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed president Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov, 32, a former rebel warlord who fought Russian forces only to spectacularly switch sides, point blank denies he’s behind the murders. His spokesman says suggestions that Kadyrov has sent death squads around the world to eliminate his enemies are a lie, part of an elaborate smear campaign. “There’s absolutely no basis to include the president of Chechnya’s name in speculation about this event,” the spokesman said of the latest such murder. People who used to work with Kadyrov disagree. They say he has a list of 300 people he wants dead.
Kadyrov is arguably more powerful than he has ever been and on the brink of becoming even more powerful as the Kremlin considers lifting a decade-old security lockdown of Chechnya that has sometimes limited his room for manoeuvre.
Inside Chechnya, his rule is already near absolute. His political enemies are either dead or in exile and Kadyrov is the object of a Soviet-style cult of personality. His ties with the Kremlin also appear to be in rude health. He recently met with the man he professes to admire so much: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It was Putin who made Kadyrov a Hero of Russia to thank him for pacifying a region torn apart by two wars in a decade, wars that at times looked like they might threaten Russia’s territorial integrity.
The latest Kadyrov critic to run into trouble was - -without exaggeration – Kadyrov’s nemesis. Last Saturday, Sulim Yamadayev, was gunned down in the car park of a luxury apartment complex in Dubai. According to relatives, a hit man shot him three times. There are conflicting accounts over whether he definitely died or is still alive but no doubt whatsoever that an attempt was made on his life. It would, according to some accounts, have been the 20th such attempt. Kadyrov, who has himself been accused by human rights organizations of egregious crimes, dubbed Yamadayev a criminal. “Naturally, it was in our interest that he should be arrested and brought to justice,” he said after Yamadayev’s reported murder. Until he was toppled in a palace coup last year, Yamadayev, 35, was a rival power centre for Kadyrov. He commanded the elite Vostok battalion, the only unit operating in Chechnya that didn’t take its orders from Kadyrov. Like Kadyrov, he also had influential friends in the Kremlin and was also a recipient of the Hero of Russia award. But Kadyrov denounced Yamadayev, saying he was responsible for abductions and more. In the end, Yamadayev was forced to flee and live the life of an exile in Dubai under an assumed name. His brother, Ruslan, a powerful politician, was less lucky. A hit man shot him dead in his car in central Moscow in rush hour traffic last September.
Umar Israilov, a 27 year-old former bodyguard for Kadyrov, met a similar fate this January in Vienna. He was shot dead as he tried to run from a group of Chechen men who, according to some accounts, had been dispatched to “bring him home.” Out buying food for his wife, he died in a hail of bullets. Israilov had filed a case against Kadyrov at the European Court of Human Rights alleging torture and worse.
Three other Chechen exiles have been murdered -- this time in Istanbul -- in the last six months. The latest, Ali Osayev, was shot three times in the head near his home this February. More recently, a troubling confession appeared on You Tube. The video showed a young Chechen man based in Norway claiming Kadyrov had ordered him to kill a prominent Chechen exile, a task he hadn’t carried out. Kadyrov aides dismissed the testimony, suggesting the man was mentally unstable.
Kadyrov has also denied he had anything to do with the prominent 2006 murder in Moscow of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who penned damning exposes of him and modern-day Chechnya. That same year, another Kadyrov foe, Movladi Baisarov, was shot dead in central Moscow by a Chechen death squad. Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst, says the pattern is clear. “One could hardly ignore the fact,” he says. “That over the last two years, practically all those who could have challenged Kadyrov’s grip on power have departed this life.”