Chechen leader denies alleged connection to killing of opponent in Vienna

MOSCOW (AP) — The president of Russia's troubled republic of Chechnya is rejecting Austrian officials' contention that he was behind the killing of an opponent in Vienna.

Umar Israilov was gunned down in January 2009 after an apparent abduction attempt went awry. Austrian investigators said this week that they assume Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov ordered the kidnapping.

Kadyrov, a former Chechen separatist rebel, is widely alleged by human rights activists to be responsible for killings, abductions and abuse of separatists and of opponents to his strongman rule.

In remarks reported on the Chechen government's website Thursday, Kadyrov denied responsibility for Israilov's killing, saying "How stupid and crude to kill people in the (city) center; why would I need to do this?"

"It's very fashionable — if blood is spilled somewhere, it's usual to blame Kadyrov," he told foreign journalists, the Web site reported. "Even soccer is infected with this illness. For example, soccer referees, when they make a judgment against the Grozny team Terek, they're considered heroes for this ... it's said 'They're not afraid of Kadyrov.'"

The battle-shattered Chechen capital of Grozny has been extensively rebuilt under Kadyrov and Russian officials say normalcy is returning to the region that experienced two full-scale wars since 1994.

Although large offensives died down in the early 2000s, rebels remain active and frequently have small-scale clashes with Russian police and troops.