- Khangoshvili was an ethnic Chechen and had over 60 fighters under his command during the Second Chechen War.
- The apparent killer arrived in Berlin shortly before the murder, rented an apartment and was planning to leave town right after.
- Many attacks allegedly carried out by the Russian government occur in the daylight and in very public places.
Last Friday, August 23, the murder of a Georgian national occurred in Germany’s Kleiner Tiergarten Park. The central district of Tiergarten is known for many public attractions, including the Berlin Zoo. The shooting took place at approximately 12 p.m. and the shots were fired at close range. Witnesses described an assailant shooting a victim twice in the head from behind before fleeing on a bicycle.
The victim has been identified as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old who fought against Russia in the Second Chechen War and allegedly had links with Georgian intelligence. He was a commander under Aslan Maskhadov. Khangoshvili was an ethnic Chechen and had over 60 fighters under his command during the Second Chechen War. This information was provided by Ekkehard Maaß, who is a president of the German-Caucus Group.
The indicators suggest the shooting was targeted and could have ties back to Russia. The victim has been wanted by Russia since 2002 under the guise of terrorism and his alleged connection to Akhmed Chataev, the former leader of a Russian-speaking faction of IS (Islamic State) killed on November 22, 2017. The Turkish media named Chataev as the organizer behind the July 2016 Ataturk Airport suicide bombing.
It is not the first incident targeting Khangoshvilli, including an attempt on his life via poisoning in 2009. Also, he was shot over eight times while driving in 2015 and survived. After that incident his family and five children were forced to seek asylum and leave Georgia through Ukraine. While residing in Georgia he allegedly worked with Georgian intelligence and was involved in a hostage situation as negotiator in 2012.
Khangoshvili and his family made an asylum claim in Germany in 2016, under their new identities secured in Georgia. His asylum was denied in 2017 and it was under appeal at the time of his murder. The German publication Tagesspiegel claims Khangoshvilli was on the German intelligence “terrorist watch” until being mysteriously removed this year. Information suggests Ukrainian intelligence had been working with him against Russia.
Shortly after the murder a warrant was issued against a Russian national. According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, divers found the murder weapon and the bicycle used in the gateway from the scene. The weapon used was identified as a Glock with a silencer.
Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed the alleged killer has been caught and is a Russian national from Siberia. He refused to cooperate with the authorities, remained cool and collected, and denies his involvement. The Russian embassy is assisting him at this time.
The apparent killer arrived in Berlin shortly before the murder, rented an apartment, and was planning to leave town right after. After a search of the rental apartment, large amounts of cash were found.
Meanwhile, the Chechen community in Berlin is concerned about more murders, including allegations of Khangoshvilli’s brother receiving death threats.
Thus far the speculation in German media suggests Federal Security Service (FSB) involvement. The Russian FSB is the principal agency responsible for the internal security of the Russian state, counterintelligence, and the fight against organized crime. Relatives of the victim believe the murder was carried out on behalf of the FSB. It’s worth noting that Khangoshvilli was a personal enemy of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic and a former member of the Chechen independence movement.
Kadyrov is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May 2004. In February 2007, Kadyrov replaced Alu Alkhanov as President, shortly after he had turned 30, which is the minimum age for the post. He was engaged in violent power struggles with Chechen government warlords Sulim Yamadayev and Said-Magomed Kakiyev for overall military authority, and with Alkhanov for political authority.
The rationale behind the murder could be very simple. Kadyrov and Putin are close friends. Since Khangoshvilli was fighting against Russian involvement in Chechnya, killing Russian soldiers, there is a clear motive.
Retribution from the Kremlin often involves conducting a brazen daylight murder. Some believe it creates doubt about any “plot” behind the murder. However, there is a common parallel: many attacks allegedly carried out by the Russian government occur in the daylight and in very public places. It’s a pattern and it instills fear into others, reminding potential enemies that even if you flee Russia or the area of the former Soviet block, you are never safe. Any type of traitor or true Russian enemy (Putin’s enemy) will be hunted down.