Georgian Chechnya-Russia War Veteran Murdered in Berlin

A Georgian man from Pankisi Gorge was shot dead in a park in the center of Berlin, Germany, on 23 August. The suspect, a Russian national, was arrested shortly after the attack. As the victim, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, had fought against Russian forces during the second Chechnya-Russia war (1999 to 2009), many are questioning if there are political motives behind the murder.

The shooting happened in broad daylight in Kleiner Tiergarten Park in Moabit. Witnesses reported seeing a man on a bicycle fatally shooting a man in the head.

Police officers later arrested a 49-year old Russian man, who was in Berlin as a tourist, near the scene. A pistol and bicycle were recovered by police divers from the river Spree.

The German government has yet to speculate a motive for the attack, although German and Georgian news channels have claimed that the attack was politically motivated due to Khangoshvili’s involvement in the Russian-Chechnya war.

Indeed, the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) believes Khangoshvili has been wanted by Russian authorities since he fought in the war from 2001 to 2005. In 2015, he was the victim of an attempted assassination when he was shot several times in Tbilisi by a man who fled the scene. Police failed to identify the perpetrators and the investigation is still ongoing.

‘Russian secret service had a high interest in him, which is proven by Khangoshvili’s and his fellow militants’ demonstrative murders […] [After the 2015 attack] his family was forced to leave Georgia and seek safety in other countries,’ reads a statement from the EMC.

Khangoshvili’s relatives also believe his murder was political: “He fought for his people’s independence in the Chechen War, he was an active warrior. Russian secret service might have been interested in him. Who else? I know for a fact that he was dissatisfied by the [Georgian] investigation and that’s why he decided to leave Georgia,’ they told TV Pirveli.

Investigators believe the murder is more likely to be a contracted murder than a personal attack, reported the Berliner Morganpost. No relationship between the victim and perpetrator has been found so far. Der Tagesspiegel claims that a large sum of money was found in the suspect’s apartment.

However, the Kremlin has claimed that there is no link between the murder and Russia, stating that there is no confirmation that the suspect is Russian. “Of course, this case has nothing to do with the Russian state and its authorities,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday, reported the Berliner Morgen Post.

Spokeswoman Maria Sakharova accused German media of spreading disinformation regarding the case, saying that the Russian Embassy in Berlin is in contact with German investigators.

The Berlin judiciary is currently handling the case rather than the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. “We have an eye on the matter and are in close contact with the Berlin judiciary,” said a spokesperson for Germany’s highest criminal prosecution authority on Monday.

Khangoshvili was known in Georgia for his help during the special operation in Lapankuri in 2012 when he aided Georgian police in their negotiations with armed militants.

The German public broadcaster WDR reported that Khangoshvili was listed as a potential militant Islamist. However, he was removed from the list in 2018 after German authorities decided he did not pose an acute threat.

By AMY JONES

Image source – Deutsche Welle

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