ANKARA, Turkey -- A Turkish court on Wednesday began questioning a man and three alleged accomplices suspected of attempting to kill a former Chechen separatist leader in Istanbul, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Shamsuddin Batukayev, a 55-year-old Muslim scholar and a leader in the Chechen separatist movement in the 1990s, said this week that his bodyguards had foiled an attempt to assassinate him by overpowering an armed man who came to his home in Istanbul posing as a Chechen seeking his help.
The alleged assassination attempt came weeks after three Chechens were gunned down near a park in Istanbul on Sept. 16. Chechen groups have blamed Russia's secret service for the killings of the men, who were allegedly involved with Chechen militants. Turkish authorities have refused comment, saying an investigation is ongoing.
The deaths increased to six the number of Chechens who have been killed in Turkey since 2008.
Anatolia said police detained the latest suspect and three other people and seized a gun with a silencer during a search of the suspect's hotel room. On Wednesday, the four were being questioned by a court that will decide whether to charge them or set them free.
Anatolia identified the suspect as Barhram B. There was no information on the other three.
Anatolia said the man told police during an initial questioning that he was given the task in Russia of killing Batukayev by someone he "did not know" and that another Russian -- whose identity he also did not know -- gave him the gun in Istanbul.
Kavkaz Center, a website sympathetic to the North Caucasus insurgency, identified the alleged would-be-killer as Barham Batumayev. It claimed the other detained suspects included Uvais Akhmadov, an alleged associate of Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov has relied on ruthless tactics to fight the Islamic insurgency after two separatist wars in Chechnya. Rights activists accuse his black-clad security forces of systematic abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings.
A ballistic examination of the weapon in Istanbul showed that it had not been used in any other previous attacks in Turkey, Anatolia reported. The agency did not cite a source for its report.
Batukayev chaired the Supreme Sharia Court of the separatist Chechen government between 1995 and 1997. In the early 2000s, he was part of the so-called Caucasus Emirate, a group of Islamist fighters seeking to establish an independent Muslim state in the Caucasus region. Experts say the group maintains links to Al Qaeda.
Turkey has a large ethnic Chechen community, and hundreds of people fleeing fighting in Chechnya, a restive region in Russia's North Caucasus, have taken refuge here.
Russian intelligence officials have not responded to allegations about their involvement in the Sept. killings.
A Russian lawmaker said, however, the man detained in Batukayev's house appeared more like an amateur driven by vendetta rather than a professional killer.
"The job of a sharia judge during a civil war was about making tough decisions," Maxim Shevchenko, an expert on the Caucasus region, was quoted as saying in Wednesday's Izvestia newspaper.
"Perhaps, one of the war children grew up and ... decided to avenge" his relative's death, Shevchenko was quoted as saying.