Arrests in Turkey May Be Connected to So-Called “Berlin Group” of Russian Killers

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 218

Ruslan Papaskiri a.k.a. Zona (Source: pressmedya.com)

On November 22, the Turkish authorities announced that six people had been arrested in Istanbul for involvement in the murder of Chechen refugees in the city in September 2011 (www.mk.ru/social/news/2012/11/22/777469-politsiya-stambula-zaderzhala-ubiyts-chechenskih-bezhentsev.html).

On September 16, 2011, three Chechens were shot dead in Zeytinburnu, one of the busiest districts of Istanbul. The slain people were identified as Rustam Altemirov, Zaurbek Amriev and Berg-Khazh Musaev. All three were killed when they exited a mosque (www.newsru.com/world/22sep2011/stambulchechnya.html). The fact that the murder took place in the old part of the city, which is always busy and especially so on Fridays when people gather for the main weekly prayer, pointed to the involvement of a professional killer. The killer calculated that the panic in the crowd would allow him to disappear without a trace, even in broad daylight.

The attack was carried out professionally—each of the victims received the so-called “control shot” to the head. Moreover, the killer used an unusual weapon for criminals—the Groza (Thunderstorm) combination machine gun/grenade launcher, common among the Russian security services. Therefore, the Turkish security services from the start suspected a Russian hand in the attack. Several possible versions were advanced, including the involvement of the Russian security services (www.todayszaman.com/news-257411-suspect-in-chechen-murders-already-gone-when-police-arrived.html). A 55-year-old Russian citizen, Alexander Zhirkov, was named as the primary suspect in the killing, and his picture was circulated in the press.

However, the Turkish authorities also did not rule out a possibility that the attack was carried out by head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov’s people. The latter flatly rejected these allegations and called them an attempt to damage his reputation in Turkish society. All those killed were from Chechen rebel commander Doku Umarov’s close circle, which is why Kadyrov’s involvement was thought to be plausible (http://golosislama.ru/news.php?id=13049).

Overall, six Chechens have been killed in Istanbul during the past three years. Gazi Edilsultanov was shot in the head on September 6, 2008. A Chechen rebel general, Islam Kanikbekov, who was accused by Russia of organizing terrorist attacks, was shot dead on December 9, 2008. Umarov’s representative Ali Osaev was killed by unidentified people on February 2, 2009. The investigators determined all killings of the former Chechen militants were carried out with the same type of weapon—a Groza. The last of the killings of the Chechens took place on September 16, 2011. The Turkish police have made little progress in solving the three earlier cases.

Therefore, the arrests of suspects in Istanbul who may be connected to the killing of the three Chechens in September 2011 came as a surprise. Arrests were made simultaneously in Istanbul and Adapazari (www.sabah.com.tr/Yasam/2012/11/20/cecen-komutanlarin-cinayetinde-6-gozalti). In all, six suspects were arrested, including Uvais Ahmadov who had repeatedly been detained previously. He was released again this time. According to media reports, Ruslan Papaskiri, a.k.a. Zona, is the primary suspect among the detained individuals. Papaskiri had a counterfeit Georgian passport on him at the time of his arrest (www.mk.ru/social/news/2012/11/22/777469-politsiya-stambula-zaderzhala-ubiyts-chechenskih-bezhentsev.html). The police confiscated seven guns while arresting the suspects. Because the killings in Turkey may have been similar to murders committed in Europe, the Turkish authorities cooperated with the German and French security services (http://gundem.milliyet.com.tr/cecen-cinayetinde-bes-kisi-gozaltinda/gundem/gundemdetay/20.11.2012/1629854/default.htm?ref=haberici).

The interesting question is: who is Ruslan Papaskiri? That name, which was on the counterfeit Georgian passport, is fictitious, and the person using it may be someone much more interesting than a mere killer of Chechens in Turkey. He originally comes from Chechnya, and there he likely had the name Ali Dabuev. For reasons that are unclear, he and his brother Musa Dabuev left Chechnya after the first Russian-Chechen war in 1996, and in 1997–1998 they moved to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Musa Dabuev was arrested by Azerbaijani authorities in 2005. The investigators accused Musa Dabuev of multiple killings of Chechen and Azerbaijani businessmen with the intention of illegally extracting cash from them, and he was subsequently imprisoned for life (http://azerimuslims.com/print.php?id=4519).

Ali Dabuev moved to Georgia where he had extensive political and social contacts. He lived in Tbilisi under the name Ruslan Papaskiri and ran a business there until March 8, 2010, when a bomb exploded as he was entering his house on Vazha Pshavella Street. He was injured and hospitalized (www.svoboda.org/archive/ru_news_zone/20100308/17/17.html?id=1977371). This bombing forced the Georgian authorities to look at Papaskiri’s activities more closely (www.apsny.ge/2012/mil/1353560703.php). He left Georgia in a hurry and moved to Turkey where he subsequently emerged as one of the suspects in the failed attempt on the life of the head of the Sharia court of Chechnya, Shamsudin Batukaev (http://infox.ru/accident/crime/2011/10/11/V_Stambulye_sovyersh_print.phtml). The arrested killer, Barkham Batumaev, immediately pointed to Papaskiri, better known among the Chechen refugees by the nickname Zona. Following the attempt on Batukaev’s life, the Turkish media quoted sources in the country’s interior ministry who alleged there was some kind of “Berlin group” of Russian killers operating around the world. Afterwards, the Turkish police declared Papaskiri a fugitive (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2011/10/12/85832.shtml). At the time of his arrest, the investigators ascertained that Papaskiri had carried out the killings of the three Chechens in Turkey in September 2011, disguising himself by wearing a wig. During his arrest, police found three German-made SIG Sauer handguns on Papaskiri (http://m2.milliyet.com.tr/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=1630275). The other people who were arrested apparently were not significant for the purposes of the investigation and were soon released on bail. They must have been detained specifically in order to locate Ruslan Papaskiri.

Thus, one year on, Turkey has a chance of uncovering the details of the high profile killings in Istanbul in the fall of 2011. If a link between Papaskiri and the Russian security services is established, it will be a major black mark for Moscow in this region. The arrests in Turkey could confirm the theory that a “Berlin group” of killers has operated in Germany under the cover of the Russian security services. That, in turn, will have a negative impact on relations between Russia and Turkey, especially in the area of the two countries’ policies toward the Caucasus. In addition, Europe will be forced to review the activities on the continent of the Russian special services, which still seem to be operating in the adversarial mode of the Cold War period of the 1970s and 1980s.