Turkish media have been grappling with finding a solution to the mystery killing of three Chechens in broad daylight in one of the tourist districts of Istanbul on September 16 (www.newsru.com, September 16). One of the three murdered Chechens, Berg-hazh Musaev, was close to the leader of the North Caucasian resistance movement, Doku Umarov. Musaev went to Turkey for medical treatment after receiving injuries in Chechnya.
This was not the first murder of Chechens in Istanbul. For the past four years at least six Chechens have been killed in the city. All these killings shared a common feature: the Russian Groza-3 handgun was used as the assault weapon in each case. The Russian military intelligence service, the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, or Main Intelligence Directorate) is reportedly armed with this weapon (www.beyazgazete.com, September 23). Another common feature of all these killings was that all the victims were members of the Chechen armed resistance. The Turkish press extensively covered the September terror attack, uncovering increasingly more bizarre details, such as the network of killers that presumably operated from Berlin (www.kriminal.lv, October 5).
In the meantime, the latest news from Istanbul is likely to embarrass the Turkish security services. An attempt to assassinate the former head of the Supreme Sharia Court of Chechnya, Shamsudin Batukaev, who resides in Turkey as a political refugee, was averted (http://lenta.ru, October 10). However, contrary to what one might expect, the murder attempt was uncovered not by the Turkish security services, but by the Chechen refugees themselves. The would-be killer, identified as Bakhram Batumaev, was disarmed and taken to the police along with his weapon. The killer’s first name and surname do not sound Chechen. It is possible the media misspelled his name, and the failed killer could turn out to be not simply just another Chechen, but a relative of the victim, Shamsudin Batukaev. The arrested man stated that he was also supposed to kill Doku Umarov’s brother, Vakha Umarov, who also lives in Istanbul.
Shamsudin Batukaev is a well-known Chechen theologian. He received his Islamic education in a Bukhara madrasah and Islamic institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Batukaev hails from Khacharoi in Chechnya’s mountainous Itum-Kale district on the border with Georgia, but lived in the village of Prigorodnoe in the republic’s Grozny rural district. Batukaev comes from a family of respected Islamic theologians, including his uncle, Hussein Batukaev.
After the first Russian-Chechen war of 1994-1996, Batukaev was appointed chairman of the Supreme Sharia Court and, under his auspices, public executions were carried out in the center of Grozny in 1997. However, under the pressure of public opinion, he was forced to abandon this practice. During the revolt of the Salafis (aka Wahhabis) against the then president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, in Gudermes on June 14, 1998, Batukaev displayed ambivalence and was removed from office. Batukaev subsequently joined the opposition to Maskhadov. He was replaced by his uncle, Hussein Batukaev, who was known for his restraint and adherence to Chechen traditions which, from his vantage point, did not contradict Islamic teachings.
After the start of the second Russo-Chechen war in 1999, Shamsudin Batukaev moved to Baku, Azerbaijan, where he spent several years. In January 2008, Doku Umarov designated Batukaev as the primary representative of the Caucasus Emirate abroad (aka Vakil of the Emirate’s Vekalat) (http://kavkazanhaamash.com, January 13, 2008). This appointment came as a significant surprise, since Batukaev had opposed the proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate and had been prepared to cooperate with Akhmed Zakaev (www.chechenpress.org, August 30, 2008). Zakaev opposed the idea of swapping the Chechen secular state concept for the concept of an Islamic state encompassing all of the North Caucasus. Consequently, Batukaev remained Umarov’s right hand for the next two years and denounced Zakaev’s statements and actions.
After Batukaev was removed from office yet another time, he did not display much activity. Shamsudin Batukaev’s removal may have been linked to his uncle Hussein Batukaev’s appeal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to allow Shamsudin to return to Chechnya. Kadyrov quickly responded to the appeal, offering his assistance in preparing the necessary paperwork for Shamsudin’s return home. It is unclear what happened afterwards. Hussein would not have dared to appeal to Kadyrov before the TV cameras unless he had received a corresponding signal from Shamsudin himself. Ultimately, however, Shamsudin Batukaev did not go back home. This may have angered Kadyrov, who had been expecting the return of a repentant former chairman of the rebels’ Sharia court to Grozny, which would have been a major propaganda victory for Kadyrov. Thus, his uncle’s premature statement put Shamsudin in a quandary, as he lost his position within Doku Umarov’s entourage and at the same time became an enemy of Ramzan Kadyrov.
Shamsudin’s relations with his former associate, Uvais Ahmadov, also soured. Uvais belonged to the Ahmadov clan from Urus Martan, which supported Shamsudin when he chaired the Supreme Sharia Court. However, in the dispute between Zakaev and Umarov, Uvais Ahmadov backed Zakaev, thereby becoming Umarov’s enemy.
Therefore, it is no wonder that following the incident, Shamsudin Batukaev stated that Uvais Ahmadov was behind the attempt on his life. The head of the rebel Kavkaz Center website, Movladi Udugov, went even farther, alleging that Akhmed Zakaev himself was behind the assassination attempt. At the same time Kavkaz Center linked the incident to the Russian security services (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ, October 10), accusing Uvais Ahmadov of collaboration with the Russians. In its turn, the Chechenpress information agency, which works under Zakaev’s auspices, accused Shamsudin Batukaev and Movladi Udugov of collaborating with the Russian security services (http://chechenpress.org, October 11). Three days after the assassination attempt, Uvais Ahmadov and two other arrested people were cleared of criminal charges and released by the Turkish police (Kommesant, October 14). Only the murder suspect remains in prison.
Shamsudin Batukaev gave a press conference immediately after his close associates handed over the suspected killer to the police. Batukaev stated that the Russian security services were behind the assassination attempt against him and that he did not exclude Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement as well.
Eventually the Turkish authorities will have to admit the incompetence of their security services, which did not prevent the killings of people who have sought asylum in their country, and start a serious effort to resolve the issue of Chechen refugees residing in Turkey. This is especially relevant against the background of Ankara promoting itself as a new leader in a region where the influence of the United States and Russia is waning. Another round of assassinations and murders of Chechens in Turkey will undermine Ankara’s purported image as a new regional power.