Killings In Istanbul Just the Latest In Series of Murders of Chechens Abroad

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 174

Istanbul (Source: Getty Images)

The first reports of the killing of three Chechens after Friday prayers in Istanbul on September 16, indicated the incident may have been linked to the Caucasus Emirate (, September 16, 2011). Russian media tried to present the murders as being related to fighting with the Chechen diaspora in Turkey (, September 16). However, those who follow Chechen developments know that after the Caucasus Emirate was proclaimed in September 2007, those Chechens that did not support this idea were excluded from all discussions about the armed resistance in the North Caucasus by 2009. All those who were adherents of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria were forced to move to European countries as refugees and halt any activities connected to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. So there could not be any serious conflict inside the diaspora. By claiming that the murders in Istanbul were the result of clashes among within Turkey’s Chechen diaspora, the Russian media is trying to mislead the international community.

The names of those killed in Istanbul show they were not random victims. The killing specifically targeted the interests of Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov. Among the victims was a man from Umarov’s inner circle, Berg-khazh Musaev (aka emir Khamzat) (, September 18). Two others killed, Rustam Altemirov and Zaurbek Amriev, were in all likelihood close associates and aides to Musaev. Emir Khamzat reportedly left Chechnya one to one and a half years ago to receive medical treatment for a hand injured in combat in Chechnya. The fact that the murders took place immediately after Friday prayers meant the victims were unarmed since they had to enter the mosque without weapons. The killer shot the victims in cold blood in one of the busiest parts of Istanbul, Zeytinburnu. The killer, who acted alone, first gunned down Altemirov and Amriev, while Musaev tried to hide. Having missed with the first shot, the attacker wounded Musaev with the second and then killed him with a third shot to the head. After killing Musaev, the assailant returned to Altemirov and Amriev, shooting them in the head to make sure they were dead. The police identified the killer on CCTV. He had arrived in Istanbul on September 2 and stayed in a hotel in the Aksarai district. He had left the hotel the following morning and never returned there. The police failed to identify the man on airport security cameras (, September 18). Turkish officials have not disclosed the ethnicity, citizenship or name of the suspect. The killer’s car was rented, and the Turkish authorities’ chances of finding the killer are slim given that he could have left Turkey for practically any destination. It is not hard to figure out that such a close associate of Umarov as Musaev probably had something to do with the Caucasus Emirate’s finances. So those behind the killing may have been seeking to disrupt the financial sources of the North Caucasian armed resistance.

The killings in Istanbul were not the first murders of high-profile representatives of Doku Umarov in Turkey. On February 27, 2009, Musa Ataev (aka Masol), Umarov’s cousin and one of the most significant figures in his entourage, was killed in the same Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul (, February 27, 2009). At the time of his death, Ataev was the first deputy of the head of the Caucasus Emirate’s representation abroad. He collected and sent money to Umarov in the North Caucasus. Ataev also was responsible for paying for the medical treatment of the wounded militants from the North Caucasus in various hospitals in Turkey, primarily in Istanbul.

Several Chechen militants have been killed in Turkey since 2008. In December 2008, former Chechen rebel field commander Islam Dzhanibekov was killed in Istanbul (, September 16). The Turkish newspaper Sabah, citing police sources, reported that a silenced, non-automatic, double-barrel Groza pistol, widely used by Russian special forces, was used to carry out the crime (, September 11). Earlier in September 2008, a well-known member of the armed resistance and supporter of the Caucasus Emirate, Gadzhi Edilsultanov, was killed. Russian media also presented his death as having been the result of internal Chechen clashes (, February 28, 2009).

It should be noted that Chechens have been killed not only in Turkey. A number of similar cases have occurred in Baku, Azerbaijan. That country has also extradited alleged rebels to Russia, which frightened Chechen refugees who subsequently sought safe haven in Europe. In February 2004, the former vice-president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, was killed in Qatar. In January 2009, Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of Ramzan Kadyrov, was killed in Vienna, Austria. The killers of Yandarbiev and Israilov were arrested in Qatar and Austria, respectively. Yandarbiev’s killers turned out to be Russian security servicemen who were later returned to Russia to serve out their prison terms but were released by Russian authorities (, February 16, 2005). In Israilov’s case, three Chechens who had helped the attacker Israilov were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms, one of them receiving a life sentence (, June 3, 2011).

There has also been a series of enigmatic murders and deaths of people who were involved in the armed resistance movement or were close to the leadership of the North Caucasus armed resistance.

All these murders in various countries of Europe and Asia are related to the conflict in the North Caucasus. The Russian state benefits from these deaths more than anyone else. So it is not difficult to forecast that there will be more news about deaths of Chechens outside of their home country. Some Chechens naively think that refugee status can protect them from a state that persecutes people for their political beliefs.