MOSCOW – The assassin of a renegade Chechen warlord tossed a gold-plated pistol to the ground next to his victim's body — a flamboyant coda to the death that took place in Dubai which marked the removal of the last major rival of Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader.
Dubai's police chief has accused a Russian parliamentarian — and confidant of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov — of masterminding the March 28 killing thousands of miles from Chechnya, outside a beachfront residential complex in a glitzy neighborhood of Dubai. On Monday, Kadyrov defended Adam Delimkhanov, a man he called his "friend, brother and, moreover, my right hand," and said the police allegations against him were a "provocation" and "slander."
A suspect in custody told authorities that one of the lawmaker's guards had provided the killer with the gold-plated pistol that killed Sulim Yamadayev, the Dubai police chief said.
The lawmaker was in Syria, according to Kadyrov, but he was expected to return to Russia. As a member of parliament Delimkhanov enjoys immunity from prosecution, and Russia's constitution bans the extradition of Russian citizens.
Delimkhanov, 39, a cousin of the Chechen president who represents the region in parliament, has denied involvement.
Any Russian investigation into the Dubai allegations would be unlikely to lead to charges or to threaten Kadyrov, who is key to keeping the southern region stable after two separatist wars in 14 years.
The Dubai assassination was the most visible killing of a renegade Chechen figure since 2004, when former Chechen separatist President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev died in Qatar. Two Russian intelligence agents were convicted and sent back to Russia to serve their sentences.
Many of Kadyrov's rivals have met violent ends after lives spent fighting in the Chechen wars, including a former warlord who was shot dead by Chechen police on a Moscow avenue and a former Kadyrov bodyguard killed outside his home in Vienna.
During Kadyrov's presidency, the Chechen capital, Grozny, was transformed from a moonscape of hulking ruins into a modern city. He oversaw the construction of Europe's biggest mosque as part of his efforts to impose Islamic values and blunt the appeal of Islamic rebels.
Yulia Latynina, a political commentator and author who has traveled extensively in Chechnya, said Kadyrov's push to rebuild Chechnya has made him the undisputed master of the predominantly Muslim region.
Sporadic hit-and-run raids by bands of rebels don't threaten his authority, and hundreds of former militants have joined Kadyrov's feared security units. Rights groups have accused his militia of rampant abductions, torture and murder.
Tensions between Yamadayev, the man killed in Dubai, and Kadyrov emerged soon after he was elected in 2007 — three years after Kadyrov's father, the former leader, was himself killed in a rebel bombing.
On Monday, Kadyrov said his government had some evidence suggesting Yamadayev could have been involved in the deadly 2004 attack against his father, the Interfax news agency reported. Kadyrov also claimed that Yamadayev had plotted to kill him too, Interfax said.
While Kadyrov consolidated his grip on power, Yamadayev's close links to the Russian military and security services made him a potential threat to the Chechen leader.
Latynina said Kadyrov's foes in the federal structures sought to instigate his conflict with Yamadayev in an effort to weaken the Chechen leader.
Tensions between the two men burst into the open in April 2008 when Yamadayev's fighters and Kadyrov's bodyguards traded insults and gunshots in a dispute over who had the right of way on a road.
As recently as last August, Yamadayev led a Russian army battalion made up of Chechen fighters to action in Russia's war with Georgia. He was discharged from the military soon after, his unit disbanded, and his men turned over to Kadyrov's side.
In September, Yamadayev's older brother was shot dead on a busy intersection near the Russian government headquarters in Moscow. The perpetrators have not been found.
In one of his last interviews, published in November before he fled to Dubai, Yamadayev said a dozen gunmen had been sent to Moscow to kill him. He said the pretext would be that he had resisted arrest — the same explanation given when another Kadyrov rival, Movladi Baisarov, was shot dead in Moscow in 2006.