MOSCOW (AP) — The regional strongman leader of Russia's province of Chechnya on Thursday blamed unidentified foreign spy agencies for the recent killing in Austria of a Chechen man who criticized him.
Ramzan Kadyrov claimed on his blog that the ethnic Chechen who was shot dead in a Vienna suburb over the weekend fell victim to “special services working against Russia and myself.”
The 43-year-old Chechen leader rejected allegations of his involvement in the slaying, saying that the killing in Vienna and earlier slayings of ethnic Chechens in Europe were performed by foreign spies to compromise him and tarnish Russia's image.
Police in Austria didn't name the victim. Russian news reports identified him as Mamikhan Umarov, who called himself “Anzor from Vienna” in his blog and reported that he recently had put out a video in which he denounced Kadyrov using obscenities.
Austrian police have detained two ethnic Chechen men on suspicion of involvement in the killing, which is being investigated as a possible political assassination.
On Tuesday, a group of Chechens rallied outside the Russian Embassy in Vienna to protest the killing.
Kadyrov charged that foreign special services know that “the Chechens bring those who insult them to account even decades later.”
“It's a paradox — the killers hired by special services save those dogs from shameful accounting for their every word,” Kadyrov said. "They know our mentality and traditions, they know that we will bring them to account, and so they put them out only to liquidate quickly after.”
The Chechen leader warned Chechens living abroad from becoming “expendable material” for foreign spy agencies. “Or otherwise you will meet the same destiny, and they will blame Kadyrov and his team,” he said.
Saturday’s killing near Vienna follows several other attacks on Chechens abroad in recent years.
German prosecutors last month charged a Russian man in the brazen daylight killing in Berlin of an ethnic Chechen from Georgia. The victim had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and fled to Germany in 2016. Prosecutors said the suspect had been tasked with the killing by Russian authorities.
In February, Imran Aliyev, who had a YouTube channel criticizing Kadyrov, was found stabbed to death in a hotel in Lille, France. That same month, another Chechen dissident, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, was attacked in Sweden.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman at the Russian Foreign Ministry, rejected the allegations of the Chechen authorities' possible involvement in Saturday's killing in Austria as unfounded “insinuations.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, wouldn’t comment on Kadyrov’s statement.
Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars, and he has run the predominantly region as his personal fiefdom, relying on feared security forces to enforce his rule and quash dissent. International human rights groups have accused Chechen authorities of abductions, torture and killings of their opponents.
Rights defenders also hold the authorities in the region as responsible for a sweeping crackdown on gays over the past few years that has seen more than 100 people arrested and subjected to tortures, some of whom were killed. Chechen authorities have denied those accusations, and federal authorities said a probe found nothing to support the charges.
The Kremlin also has stood by Kadyrov amid Russian opposition claims of his involvement in the 2015 killing of prominent Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, which the Chechen leader has rejected. An officer in Chechnya's security forces was convicted of shooting Nemtsov on a bridge next to the Kremlin and received a 20-year prison term.