Zelimkhan Khangoshvili

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Zelimkhan Khangoshvili
Native name
ზელიმხან სულთანოვიჩი ხანგოშვილი
Born(1979-08-15)15 August 1979
Duisi, Akhmeta Municipality, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Died23 August 2019(2019-08-23) (aged 40)
Berlin, Germany
Allegiance
Years of service
  • 2001–2005
  • 2007–2012
RankField commander
Battles/wars

Zelimkhan Sultanovich Khangoshvili (Georgian: ზელიმხან სულთანოვიჩი 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 the Georgian Intelligence Service by identifying Russian spies and jihadists operating on domestic and foreign soil to Georgian intelligence agents.[1] Meanwhile, Khangoshvili was considered a terrorist by the Government of the Russian Federation, the Federal Security Service (FSB RF), and wanted in Russia.[2][3] On 23 August 2019, Khangoshvili was assassinated in a Berlin park by FSB operative Vadim Krasikov.[2][4]

Life[edit]

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was born into the family of Sultan Khangoshvili on 15 August 1979, in the Duisi village of the Pankisi Gorge,[5] a region of Georgia home to a large ethnic Chechen population known as the Kists.[2] He is the nephew of Chechen and Kist historian Khaso Khangoshvili. Zelimkhan finished school in Pankisi and later went to work in Chechnya, the residence of his elder brother Zurab, in the late 1990s.[6] Chechnya was at the time known as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, a de facto independent break-away republic of Russia.

In 2001, after the outbreak of the Second Chechen War, Khangoshvili joined the armed resistance of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in their fight against Russia.[7] He was a field commander and had close ties to former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in March 2005 in a raid by the Federal Security Service (FSB RF). 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. Zelimkhan 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!"[8]

After returning to Georgia, Khangoshvili commanded an anti-terror military unit in South Ossetia during the 2008 war, but his unit was never deployed. In 2016, Khangoshvili, his 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 Russian authorities.[9]

Assassination[edit]

On 23 August 2019, at around midday in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in Berlin, Khangoshvili was walking down a wooded path on his way back from the mosque he attended when he was shot three times—once in the shoulder and twice in the head—by a Russian assassin on a bike with a suppressed Glock 26. The bicycle, a plastic bag with the murder weapon, and a wig the perpetrator was using were dumped into the Spree.[10] The suspect, identified as 56-year-old Russian national "Vadim Sokolov" by German police, was apprehended soon after the assassination.[9][11] The Russian government and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have both been linked to the killing.[12][13]

The victim's body was later transported to Duisi, Georgia, to be buried on 29 August 2019.[14]

Identifying Khangoshvili's assassin[edit]

Khangoshvili's assassin, detained by German police, traveled on a valid Russian passport issued under the fake identity of Vadim Sokolov. Reports by Der Spiegel and other media disclosed that the suspect traveled from Moscow to Paris to Warsaw, where he rented a hotel room for five days, during which he traveled 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".[citation needed] The Daily Beast noted that "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."[1]

The investigative research network Bellingcat and the investigative authorities concluded that Sokolov was actually Vadim Krasikov, born in August 1965 in the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Krasikov was also named as a suspect in the murder of a Russian businessman on 19 June 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.[15] The Russian Interpol red notice on 23 April 2014 against Krasikov was withdrawn on 7 July 2015 without a reason. Investigations by Bellingcat suggest that Krasikov was a member of the elite unit Vympel.[16] Police investigations in connection with the murder in Berlin revealed that Sokolov and Krasikov are the same person.[17] No personal connections between him and Khangoshvili were found to exist.

On 4 December 2019, the Federal Attorney General (Public Prosecutor 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's alias] was either commissioned by government agencies of Russia or those of the 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."[18]

On 6 December 2019, several media outlets reported that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) received credible information that a Russian secret service agent was attempting to kill Krasikov while in remand to prevent possible statements from him; as a result, Krasikov was moved from the JVA Moabit to the high-security wing of the JVA Tegel.[19]

In February 2020, Bellingcat suspected that the operation, both with training and with a false ID, was supported by the FSB RF.[20]

In June 2020, the federal prosecutor general brought charges against a Russian citizen, called the act a contract killing, and accused the Government of the Russian Federation as the mastermind behind Khangishvili's murder. According to the prosecution, the background to the killing order was Khangoshvili's opposition to the Russian Federation's Central Government, the governments of its autonomous republics Chechnya and Ingushetia, and the pro-Russian government of the Republic of Georgia. This was followed by a conversation between the Russian ambassador to Germany with the Foreign Office.[21] The prosecution also named "Roman D." as a possible accomplice,[22] which confirmed Bellingcat's suspicions that more than one person was involved in the murder, and identified one of them.[23] Bellingcat pointed out that deliberately false references to the identity of the suspect had been circulated.

Diplomatic repercussions[edit]

On 4 December 2019, the German Federal Foreign Office accused Russia of refusing to cooperate in the investigation of the Khangoshvili murder and expelled two Russian foreign office diplomatic employees working in Berlin.[24] An official request for assistance in the case was submitted to Russia two days after the expulsion.[25] In response, Russia expelled two German diplomats on 12 December.[26]

On 10 August 2020, the Slovak Foreign Ministry announced that three diplomats from the Russian embassy in Bratislava were to be expelled from 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 "there had been 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".[27]

In December 2021, two Russian diplomats were expelled after a Berlin court determined that the murder was a state-ordered killing. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the murder a “grave breach of German law and the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany” and summoned Russia’s ambassador in Berlin to discuss the court’s conclusion.[28]

At the end of July 2022, Russia apparently demanded the extradition of convicted Russians in exchange for the release of two imprisoned US citizens. According to CNN, the Russian government is demanding the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has done 10 years of a 25-year federal prison sentence in the United States and convicted Russian assassin, Vadim Krasikov, who is doing a life sentence in Germany. The US is trying to free US basketball player Brittney Griner, held in Russian on minor drug charges and former US soldier Paul Whelan, also being held in Russia, doing 16 years for espionage. In July 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the first time since the start of Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine, called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, to whom he made an offer from the US to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. According to the Tagesschau (German TV programme), it is unlikely that Krasikov will be returned to Russia.[29] The possibility of an exchange was further complicated when the Russians demanded the inclusion of convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov, doing a life sentence in Germany.[30] [31]

Trial and verdict[edit]

On 15 December 2021, a Berlin court found Krasikov guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment without automatic parole. The court also determined that the murder was ordered by the Russian government as a "state-contracted killing".[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ a b c "Berlin Chechen shooting: Russian assassination suspected". BBC News. 27 August 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  3. ^ Oltermann, Philip; Walker, Shaun (28 August 2019). "Russia denies ordering assassination of Chechen exile in Berlin". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  4. ^ "СМИ: ФСБ предоставила документы на ненастоящее имя жене обвиняемого в убийстве бывшего чеченского полевого командира Хангошвили".
  5. ^ "Источник рассказал о террористическом прошлом убитого в Берлине гражданина Грузии" (in Russian). Interfax. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Выстрелы в центре Берлина. История жизни и смерти чеченского полевого командира" (in Russian). BBC Russian Service. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  7. ^ Mamsurov, Alikhan; Kmuzov, Beslan (29 August 2019). "Chechen Diaspora sees Russian trace in Khangoshvili's murder in Berlin". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ "Suspected Assassin In The Berlin Killing Used Fake Identity Documents". Bellingcat. 30 August 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  11. ^ "Germany expels Russian diplomats over state-ordered killing". AP NEWS. 15 December 2021. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  12. ^ "Chechen leader 'was behind Berlin assassination' of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili". The Times. 6 December 2019.
  13. ^ "New Evidence Links Russian State to Berlin Assassination". Bellingcat. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  14. ^ "Former Chechen Commander Slain In Berlin Buried In Native Georgian Village". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 29 August 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Identifying The Berlin Bicycle Assassin: From Moscow to Berlin (Part 1)". Bellingcat. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Identifying The Berlin Bicycle Assassin: Russia's Murder Franchise (Part 2)". Bellingcat. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  17. ^ "Berlin murder: Germany expels two Russian diplomats". BBC News. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  18. ^ Gebauer, Matthias; Lehberger, Roman; Schmid, Fidelius; Wiedmann-Schmidt, Wolf (4 December 2019). "Mord im Kleinen Tiergarten: Deutschland weist russische Botschaftsmitarbeiter aus" [Murder in the Kleiner Tiergarten: Germany identifies Russian embassy employees]. Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  19. ^ Götschenberg, Michael (6 December 2019). "Mord im Tiergarten: BND befürchtet Ermordung von mutmaßlichem Auftragskiller" [BND fears murder of alleged contract killer]. RBB (in German). Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  20. ^ "'V' For Vympel: FSB's Secretive Department 'V' Behind Assassination of Georgian Asylum Seeker in Germany". Bellingcat. 17 February 2020. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  21. ^ Der Spiegel (18 June 2020). "Mord im Kleinen Tiergarten: Bundesregierung droht Russland mit weiteren Strafmaßnahmen" [Murder in the Kleiner Tiergarten: Federal government threatens Russia with further punitive measures] (in German). Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  22. ^ "FSB's Magnificent Seven: New Links between Berlin and Istanbul Assassinations". Bellingcat. 29 June 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  23. ^ Bellingcat Investigation Team (29 August 2020). "Suspected Accomplice in Berlin Tiergarten Murder Identified as FSB / Vympel Officer". Bellingcat. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  24. ^ Oltermann, Philip (4 December 2019). "Germany expels two Russians over killing of Chechen separatist in Berlin". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  25. ^ Stuchlik, Stephan (20 December 2019). "Tiergarten-Mord: Diplomaten zu eilig ausgewiesen?". Tagesschau (in German). ARD. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  26. ^ "Berlin murder: Russia expels German diplomats amid dispute". BBC News. 12 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Berlin murder: Slovakia to expel three Russian diplomats". BBC.com. 10 August 2020.
  28. ^ "Germany expels Russian diplomats over state-ordered killing". AP NEWS. 15 December 2021. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  29. ^ tagesschau.de. "Russland fordert Auslieferung des Tiergarten-Mörders". tagesschau.de (in German). Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  30. ^ Vadim Krasikov Sentenced to Life in Prison by German Court for Kremlin-Ordered Killing, Newsweek, Zoe Satrozewski, December 15, 2021. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
  31. ^ CNN Exclusive: Russian officials requested adding convicted murderer to Griner/Whelan prisoner swap, CNN, Natasha Bertrand and Frederik Pleitgen, July 29, 2022. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
  32. ^ Associated Press (15 December 2021). "Russian government ordered murder of Chechen in Berlin, German court rules". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 December 2021.

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