Chechen Who Accused Kadyrov of Torture Murdered in Vienna

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 2

A 27-year-old Chechen was shot to death in Vienna, Austria on January 13. The victim was identified as Umar Israilov, and Agence France-Presse on January 14 quoted the Austrian newspaper Kurier as reporting that he was shot to death by two gunmen. AFP reported that Austrian police had arrested a suspect in the killing—a Chechen identified only as Otto K.—who denied involvement in the shooting but told authorities that Israilov had worked as part of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s security team and “deserved” to die for having abandoned the pro-Russian Chechen camp. According to the French news agency, a Russian source cited by Kurier said that Israilov had been close to Chechen warlord Movsar Barayev, one of the Chechen gunmen involved in the Dubrovka theater siege in Moscow in October 2002.

New York Times correspondent C. J. Chivers wrote in the newspaper on January 14 that according to a family friend of Israilov, he was ambushed at lunchtime on January 13 near his Vienna apartment as he left a grocery store by “at least four men in two cars” who were waiting for him and then shot him as he tried to run away. The family friend asked that his name be withheld “out of fear for his own safety.”

According to Chivers, Israilov had been detained as a separatist rebel, was given amnesty and briefly served as a bodyguard to Kadyrov but later fled Chechnya for Europe and filed a complaint against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights in late 2006. The complaint to the France-based Strasbourg Court detailed alleged “systematic use of abductions and torture” by Kadyrov and his security forces to punish suspected insurgents and their families in 2003-2005—the period during which Kadyrov became Chechnya’s prime minister.

Chivers reported that in an interview with the New York Times last fall, Israilov described several of the allegations he had made to the Strasbourg court, including the beating and kicking of detainees by Kadyrov and his fighters, the rape of a detainee by one of Kadyrov’s subordinates and Kadyrov’s use of a hand-cranked device that delivered electric shocks to prisoners. Israilov claimed Kadyrov himself had used the electrical device on him. Citing “both victims and a human rights worker who investigated the case,” Chivers reported that after Israilov fled Chechnya, his father was abducted, tortured and held illegally by Kadyrov for more than 10 months “in an effort to force the son to return home.”

Nadja Lorenz, Israilov’s lawyer in Vienna, told the New York Times that she had recently sought protection for Israilov from the Austrian authorities, but that the request had been denied.

None of Israilov’s allegations against Kadyrov was reported by the New York Times prior to the article published on January 14.

In an article published in the New York Times on January 15, Chivers quoted a spokesman for the Austrian public prosecutor’s office as saying that police were holding a suspect in Israilov’s murder. The spokesman described the suspect as a Chechen who had been granted asylum and had lived in Austria for years, but refused to name him.

Chivers also reported on January 15 that Israilov had been pressed by a Kadyrov “emissary” to withdraw the human rights complaint against the Chechen leader he had made both to Russian prosecutors and to the European Court of Human Rights. According to the New York Times correspondent, an Austrian police record provided to the newspaper by a friend of Israilov included the statement given last year to Austria’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action against Terrorism by a 41-year-old Chechen, identified as Artur Kurmakayev of St. Petersburg. Kurmakayev said he had been sent to Vienna by Kadyrov to bring Israilov home, “by the use of force if necessary.” Chivers reported that Kurmakayev told investigators on June 10 that he worked for a “secretive department” under Kadyrov charged with repatriating Chechens in exile, and that for his assignment in Vienna he had been provided two assistants from Kadyrov’s presidential guard whom he met in Slovakia.

Kurmakayev told the Austrian counter-terrorism authorities that he had seen a list at Kadyrov’s residence in the Chechen town of Gudermes of approximately 5,000 names of Chechens who had either fought against Kadyrov or “have otherwise attracted unfavorable attention,” and that 300 of those on the lists “have to die,” including about 50 Chechens living in Austria.  Kurmakayev said he wanted to seek asylum in Austria, adding that if he did not “properly” fulfill his “assignment,” then his family “could die.” Yet, according to a lawyer who had represented Israilov, Kurmakayev later returned to Russia voluntarily and his whereabouts are unknown.

According to Chivers, a separate Austrian police record quotes Israilov as saying that Kurmakayev, using the name Arbi, had asked him in mid-2008 to withdraw his case against Kadyrov. Israilov said that when he refused, Kurmakayev told him that “two people in Slovakia were waiting for me and were set on killing me” and that he should “think twice about it.”

Chivers quoted a spokesman for Kadyrov as saying he was unaware of Israilov and his case and that the Chechen president’s office would review the allegations before making any statement.

The Moscow Times on January 15 quoted Timur Aliev, an adviser to Kadyrov and a former journalist who covered the two Chechen wars extensively, as saying by telephone from Grozny that he had never heard of Israilov and expressed doubt that the murder could be an act of revenge by the Chechen leadership. “There are other Chechens, more important, known and influential, who file complaints against Russia in Europe and criticize Kadyrov, but they still walk around safe and sound,” Aliev told the English-language newspaper.

The Moscow Times also quoted the press office for the European Court of Human Rights as saying that it had received an initial complaint from an Umar Israilov in November 2006 but that it could not confirm that it was from the man slain in Vienna. The court received no follow-up information from the plaintiff following the initial appeal, therefore the complaint was expunged from the court’s records, the court’s press office told the English-language newspaper. For that reason, the court said it could not provide details of the complaint or further information about the identity of the plaintiff.

An article published in the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung on January 14 quoted Israilov’s 28-year-old wife as saying she now fears for her life and for the life of her children.