Austria probe links slaying to Chechen president
VIENNA – VIENNA (AP) — Austrian investigators have concluded that Chechnya's president ordered the kidnapping of one of his critics and former bodyguards in Vienna and that the man was shot to death there when the abduction went awry, an official said Tuesday.
Umar Israilov, 27, was gunned down Jan. 13, 2009, as he was leaving a grocery store in Austria's capital. Human rights activists have long alleged the killing was linked to his opposition to Chechnya's pro-Kremlin president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Three Chechen men are being detained in Austria as suspects in the case, Otto Kaltenbrunner, Muslim Dadayev and an unidentified suspect. But none of them has been formally charged.
Gerhard Jarosch, spokesman for the Vienna public prosecutor's office, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the counterterrorism authorities who conducted the 15-month investigation "assume that Kadyrov is behind the murder of Israilov" and that he ordered his kidnapping.
The completed confidential report has been given to the Vienna public prosecutor's office, which will decide whether to file formal charges in the case.
It was not immediately possible to get Kadyrov's reaction to the investigation because telephone calls to his spokesman in Chechnya went unanswered after business hours Tuesday.
Jarosch said the Austrian investigators based their conclusions on circumstantial evidence including a photograph of Kadyrov and Kaltenbrunner that was found on Kaltenbrunner's cell phone.
Jarosch appeared doubtful when asked about the likelihood of a charge against Kadyrov, saying there did not appear to be much to go on. But he said prosecutors would now carefully consider the contents of the report to see if there was sufficient proof.
According to the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Israilov had reported that he had been repeatedly tortured by Kadyrov and had served as a chief witness in court proceedings against Russia before the European Court of Human Rights. His accounts had also formed the basis of a criminal complaint against Kadyrov on charges of torture and attempted duress filed by Austrian lawyers in June 2008.
On Monday, Jarosch confirmed that investigators had found a connection between Kaltenbrunner and Shaa Turlayev, a close adviser to the Chechen leader.
The Austrian official said an electronic airplane ticket and a copy of Turlayev's passport were found in Kaltenbrunner's car and that Turlayev had traveled to Vienna from Moscow two and a half months before the killing.
Kaltenbrunner was among the men who met him at the airport, Jarosch said. Another was Lecha Bogatirov, a suspect in the case who managed to flee.
Lennart Binder, the lawyer for Dadayev, who allegedly drove the getaway car after the killing, told The Associated Press on Monday that his client was told he would be participating in a kidnapping — not a murder — because Israilov owed Chechnya's president $300,000.
Austrian authorities have been criticized for not providing Israilov police protection prior to his assassination after having been warned that his life was in danger.
The warning in the summer of 2008 came from a man who claimed he had been hired by Kadyrov to kill Israilov but then had second thoughts and told police. The purported hit man's allegations could not be confirmed and he was later deported to Russia.