Earlier this month, three Chechen men were walking down a busy street in Istanbul when a single man shot them 11 times with a silenced 9mm pistol. All were killed within 30 seconds.
The assassin got into a black car, reportedly a Ford Mondeo, and sped away.
The victims were all members of Istanbul’s Chechen community. One of the men killed was Berg-Haj Musayev, and the other men were believed to be his bodyguards, reports The Telegraph. Musayev was allegedly close to Russia’s most wanted man Doku Umarov, thought to be responsible for a suicide bomb attack at a Moscow airport in January.
Turkish secret forces later raided the hotel room of the man they suspected of being involved, acting on a tip. The assassin was thought to be Alexander Zharkov, a 55-year-old Russian national travelling on a diplomatic passport. They missed him by minutes, but he left behind binoculars, a night vision scope and the murder weapon. The Moscow Times reports that Zharkov is also thought to have been in the country during the murder of Umarov’s spokesperson in 2009.
The incredible professionalism of the murders led most observers to one conclusion — a member of Russia’s “Berlin group”, a group swiftly becoming infamous for their covert brutality, was behind them.
Der Spiegel reports that rumours abound of the “Berlin group” planning attacks from Germany have proliferated on Chechen underground websites in recent weeks. The group is suspected of a number of attacks in Istanbul.
Other attacks, such as the murder of a former Chechen president in 2004 in Qatar, and assassinations in Dubai and Vienna, could be linked to the group.
One Chechen website, Kavkaz centre, alleges that there are six “hit groups” in Berlin, funded by wealthy Russians and controlled by the Russian secret service. The German government won’t confirm this, but admits there are reports of some 1,200 Chechen exiles and Russian intelligence agents in the city.
The incident has upset Istanbul’s 1,500-member Chechen diaspora, most of whom left Chechnya during the bloody war with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s.
However, Russia is offering official indifference to the outrage.
“If the murdered men really were involved in the suicide bombing then what has happened is a normal occurrence in a war,” Maxim Shevchenko, a Kremlin advisor, told The Telegraph. “After all, they declared war on the Russian state so it is logical that in response our special services have a group of liquidators.”
Indeed, while President, Vladimir Putin made clear that anywhere was fair game for Chechen terrorist. “We will pursue the terrorists wherever they go. If we find them in the toilet, we’ll kill them in the outhouse,” he said.
As Der Spiegel notes, it appears the group is working to eliminate all the names on some sort of Chechen “hit list”.
It’s not clear how many more names are left on the list.
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