|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 "Tornike" Khangoshvili (Georgian: ზელიმხან ხანგოშვილი; 15 August 1979 – 23 August 2019) was an ethnic Chechen Georgian who was a former military 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 intelligence for Georgian and Western intelligence agencies and even the CIA by identifying Russian spies operating on 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.
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 a 2005 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 Ingushetia and Dagestan, in which 98 military personnel were killed; Zelimkhan himself was seriously wounded in the leg during the operation. 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 Glock 26 silencer. 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 has 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. In a report from 26 September 2019, The New York Times reported that German investigators had received a tip from an anonymous source claiming the suspect's real identity was that of Vladimir Stepanov, a former police officer from Saint Petersburg who in 2006 was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
German police are said to be undetermined whether Vladimir Stepanov is in fact the person behind the Vadim Sokolov persona. The open source investigative team at Bellingcat and its investigative partners Der Spiegel, The Insider and the Dossier Centre, have concluded however that the suspect held by German police is unlikely to be Vladimir Stepanov. The same finding was reached independently by the St. Petersburg-based online newspaper Fontanka.ru, that claimed in a 26 September 2019 report that Vladimir Stepanov remains in a Russian prison. Bellingcat and its partners have stated that conclusive evidence proves that the suspect traveled to Berlin under a cover identity with the active support of the Russian state and that the Russian state "created a comprehensive, back-dated paper-trail for this fictitious persona in order to help him obtain the necessary travel and insurance documents, and crucially, a Schengen visa."
"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 Skripal's hit team, have used these 'old-style' passports in ultimately futile attempts to hide their cover identities."
On 4 Deсember 2019, German Public Prosecutor General took over the case, arguing that "there are sufficient real indications that the killing was either commissioned by state agencies of the Russian Federation or such agencies of the Autonomous Chechen Republic as part of the Russian Federation."
On 6 December 2019, German media outlets reported that the German Federal Intelligence Service had received information that a Russian state agency plans to kill "Vadim Sokolov" in German prison to get rid of the witness. Perceiving it as credible, the German authorities transferred Stepanov to an unknown prison in Germany.
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.
- 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
- Weiss, Michael (27 September 2019). "A Murder in Berlin: The Untold Story of a Chechen 'Jihadist' Turned Secret Agent". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- "Berlin Chechen shooting: Russian assassination suspected". BBC News. 27 August 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- Oltermann, Philip; Walker, Shaun (28 August 2019). "Russia denies ordering assassination of Chechen exile in Berlin". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- "Источник рассказал о террористическом прошлом убитого в Берлине гражданина Грузии" (in Russian). Interfax. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
- "Выстрелы в центре Берлина. История жизни и смерти чеченского полевого командира" (in Russian). BBC Russian Service. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
- Mamsurov, Alikhan; Kmuzov, Beslan (29 August 2019). "Chechen Diaspora sees Russian trace in Khangoshvili's murder in Berlin". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- Tlis, Fatima (13 December 2019). "Update: A Killing in Berlin, And Putin's Misleading Claims About A "Blood-Thirsty" Chechen". Polygraph.info. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
- Eckel, Mike (28 August 2019). "Former Chechen Commander Gunned Down In Berlin; Eyes Turn To Moscow (And Grozny)". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Archived from the original on 25 October 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- "New Evidence Links Russian State to Berlin Assassination". Bellingcat. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
- "Former Chechen Commander Slain In Berlin Buried In Native Georgian Village". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 29 August 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
- Bennhold, Katrin; Schwirtz, Michael; Triebert, Christiaan (26 September 2019). "The Berlin Police Are Confident the Killer Is in Jail. They Just Don't Know His Name". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
- "Germany Declares two Russian Embassy Employees Non-Gratae for non-Cooperation on Khangoshvili Murder case". civil.ge. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
- Götschenberg, Michael (6 December 2019). "Tiergarten-Mord: BND befürchtet Tötung des Täters". Tagesschau (in German). ARD. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- Oltermann, Philip (4 December 2019). "Germany expels two Russians over killing of Chechen separatist in Berlin". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
- Stuchlik, Stephan (20 December 2019). "Tiergarten-Mord: Diplomaten zu eilig ausgewiesen?". Tagesschau (in German). ARD. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
- "Berlin murder: Russia expels German diplomats amid dispute". BBC News. 12 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.