|Born||15 August 1979|
Duisi, Akhmeta Municipality, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
|Died||23 August 2019 (aged 40)|
|Allegiance|| Chechen Republic of Ichkeria|
|Years of service||2001–2005|
|Battles/wars||Second Chechen War|
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili (Georgian: ზელიმხან ხანგოშვილი, Russian: Зелимхан Султанович Хангошвили; 15 August 1979 – 23 August 2019) was an ethnic Chechen Georgian who was a former platoon commander for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria during the Second Chechen War, and a Georgian military officer during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Later on, he allegedly turned into a useful source of information for Georgian intelligence by identifying Russian spies and jihadists operating on domestic and foreign soil through a connection with Georgian intelligence agents. Khangoshvili continued to be considered a terrorist by Russian security service, the FSB and wanted in Russia. On 23 August 2019, Khangoshvili was assassinated in a Berlin park, by an alleged Russian FSB operative.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was born on 15 August 1979 into the family of Sultan Khangoshvili, in the Duisi village of the Pankisi Gorge, a region of Georgia home to a large ethnic Chechen population known as the Kist. He finished school there and later went to work in Chechnya, the residence of his elder brother Zurab, in the late 1990s.
In 2001, Khangoshvili joined the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in its fight against Russia during the Second Chechen War. Khangoshvili was a field commander and had close ties to former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov was killed in March 2005 in a raid by the FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency. According to Khangoshvili's brother, Zurab, Zelimkhan participated in the June 2004 attack on security, military and police forces in the Russian Republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, in which 88 police officials and civilians were killed; Zelimkhan was reportedly wounded in the leg during the operation. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that he was one of the perpetrators of a Moscow metro bombing. However, Zelimkhan himself denied that he was ever responsible for war crimes, telling Georgian media: "The Russians are blaming me for many things, including terrorist attacks. This is a lie. No one can provide any evidence that a single civilian was injured or killed in any of my actions!".
After returning to his native Georgia, Khangoshvili commanded a Georgian anti-terror military unit in South Ossetia during the 2008 war, but his unit was never deployed. In 2016, Khangoshvili and his family, wife and four children, sought refuge in Germany after several attempts on his life in Georgia which his brother believes were orchestrated by Russian intelligence, although the accusation has been denied by the Russian authorities.
On 23 August 2019, at around midday in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin Khangoshvili was walking through a wooded path of the park on his way back from the mosque he attended, when he was shot twice in the head by an alleged Russian assassin on a bike with a suppressed Glock 26. The gun and bicycle were afterwards dumped into the river Spree, but the alleged perpetrator, identified as 49 year-old Russian national "Vadim Sokolov" by German police, was apprehended. The Russian state and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have been linked to the killing.
The victim's body was later transported to his native village of Duisi in Georgia to be buried there on 29 August 2019.
Identifying Khangoshvili's assassin
Khangoshvili's alleged assassin, detained by German police, traveled on a valid Russian passport issued under the fake identity of Vadim Sokolov. Reporting by Der Spiegel and other media has disclosed that the suspect initially traveled from Moscow to Paris and then on to Warsaw, where he rented a hotel room for five days during which he traveled on to Berlin. Sokolov's passport was issued without any biometric data, the inclusion of which has been the default option for all Russian passports since 2009, except 'in emergency situations when the applicant has no time to wait for the fingerprint encryption and printing process.' In fact, 20 GRU operatives outed by Bellingcat in recent years, including those suspected of poisoning Skripal, have used these 'old-style' passports in ultimately futile attempts to hide their cover identities."
The investigative research network Bellingcat and, as became known later, also the investigative authorities came to the conclusion that Vadim Sokolov was actually Vadim Krasikov, born in August 1965 in the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Vadim Krasikov was also named as a suspect in the murder of a Russian businessman on June 19, 2013 in Moscow. The murder was recorded by a surveillance camera and had a similar pattern: A cyclist murdered the businessman from behind with a head shot. The Russian Interpol wanted notice of April 23, 2014 against Vadim Krasikov was withdrawn on July 7, 2015 without giving a reason. Investigations by Bellingcat suggest that Vadim Krasikov was a member of the elite unit Vympel. Police investigations in connection with the murder in Berlin revealed that Vadim Sokolov and Vadim Krasikov are the same person. No personal connections between Vadim Sokolov and Zelimkhan Khangoshvili were found to exist.
On December 4, 2019, the Federal Attorney General took over the investigation into the case. This was justified by the fact that “there were sufficient factual indications that the killing of Tornike K. [= Zelimkhan Khangoshvili] was either commissioned by government agencies of the Russian Federation or those of the Autonomous Chechen Republic as part of the Russian Federation. On the same day, two members of the military intelligence service GRU in the Russian Embassy in Berlin were expelled from the country in connection with the investigation . The Federal Government spoke of a "warning shot" in this regard, justifying the step with the fact that Russian governmental bodies had not yet cooperated in investigating the murder. A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry called the deportation “unfriendly and unfounded” and announced retaliatory measures.
On December 6, 2019, several media outlets reported that the Federal Intelligence Service had received credible information that a Russian secret service agent was attempting to kill Vadim S. while in remand to prevent possible statements from him. Thereupon, he was moved from the JVA Moabit to the high security wing of the JVA Tegel.
On December 12, 2019, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of two German diplomats from Russia. A Russian government spokesman described the move as “inevitable” and “a standard diplomatic process.”
In June 2020 the Federal Prosecutor General brought charges against a Russian citizen, calling the act a contract killing and referring to the Government of the Russian Federation as the mastermind behind the contract killing. According to the prosecution, the background to the killing order was Khangoshvili's opposition to the Russian central state, the governments of its Autonomous Republics Chechnya and Ingushetia and the pro-Russian government Georgia. This was followed by a conversation between the Russian Ambassador to Germany with the Foreign Office. The prosecution also names "Roman D." as a possible accomplice. This confirmed the conclusion of Bellingcat that more than one person was involved in the murder, and identified one of them. Bellingcat also pointed out that deliberately false references to the identity of the suspect had been circulated.
On 4 December 2019, the German Federal Foreign Office accused Russia of refusing to cooperate in the investigation of Khangoshvili murder and expelled two Russian foreign office diplomatic employees working in Berlin. An official request for assistance in the case hadn't been put up until then; it was submitted to Russia two days after the expulsion. In response, Russia expelled two German diplomats on 12 December.
On 10 August 2020, the Slovak Foreign Ministry announced that three diplomats from the Russian embassy in Bratislava are set to be expelled and they must leave the country by 13 August. Slovak authorities noted information provided by Slovak intelligence services that "[the diplomats'] activities were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations," according to a Slovak foreign ministry spokesman. He also added that "an abuse of visas issued at the Slovak general consulate in St Petersburg, and in this connection a serious crime was committed on the territory of another EU and NATO member state."
- List of Soviet and Russian assassinations
- Amina Okueva – Ukrainian-Chechen activist assassinated in Ukraine
- Sulim Yamadayev – former Chechen rebel commander assassinated in Dubai
- Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev – former Chechen president assassinated by Russian agents in Qatar
- Umar Israilov – Chechen exile and former Ramzan Kadyrov's bodyguard assassinated in Vienna, Austria
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