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German police have arrested a Russian citizen suspected of murder of the Second Chechen War veteran, Georgian national Zelimkhan Khangoshvili from Pankisi valley. Khangoshvili, who was on his way to the mosque, was attacked and killed in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on 23 August.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili participated in the 2001–2005 Chechen–Russian war and, according to rights group Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), was targeted by Russian authorities ever since.
Khangoshvili was attacked before. In 2015, he was wounded in Tbilisi, however police failed to identify and prosecute perpetrators as the investigation is still ongoing.
According to the German police, he was killed by a 49-years-old Russian citizen who was on a bicycle at the moment of the attack.
Berliner Morgenpost newspaper reported that eyewitnesses described the attack as an ‘execution-style’ murder. According to a witness’s description, the suspect approached Khangoshvili from behind, shot him twice in the head and fled on his bicycle.
German public broadcaster WDR also reported that German security agencies had listed Khangoshvili as a potential militant Islamist, but later removed him from the list after determining that he didn’t pose a threat.
According to Deutsche Welle, Khangoshvili was an asylum seeker who was slated for deportation but appealed the decision, saying there had been multiple attempts on his life.
German prosecutor Ralph Knispel told media that there was another person involved in the murder, although they couldn’t be identified for the moment.
Family members of Khangoshvili allege that Russian secret service might be involved in the murder.
‘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’, Khangoshvili’s relative told TV Pirveli.
Who is Khangoshvili
Khangoshvili gained public attention in Georgia in 2012 during special operation in Lapankuri, where he was aiding Georgian police in negotiations with armed militants.
The special operation, known as Lapankuri operation, was dubbed by then-President Mikheil Saakashvili as a North Caucasian military group’s ‘attempt to provoke’ and ‘test Georgia’s military readiness’. However, a year later Georgian Public Defender said that the militant group did not cross from the North Caucasus, but had been formed by Georgia’s Interior Ministry. According to the report, the death toll was also misreported and not 11 but 7 people had died.
Together with Khangoshvili, Akhmed Chatayev was also involved in negotiations with the militants during the Lapankuri confrontation.
Chatayev was a member of the Islamic State suspected of organising the deadly 2016 Istanbul Airport attack. According to the Georgian State Security Service, he blew up himself during the counterterrorist operation in Tbilisi’s Gabriel Salosi Street on 21–22 November in 2017.
[Read more about Chatayev’s suicide in Tbilisi on OC Media: IS member Akhmed Chatayev ‘blew himself up’ in Tbilisi siege]
In May 2015, while sitting in his car, Khangoshvili was attacked by an unidentified man who shot him eight times and fled. Khangoshvili was wounded, however managed to get himself to a hospital where he was operated.
‘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’, EMC wrote in their statement.
Georgian law officials launched an investigation in 2015 to determine the attackers, however, failed to do so. The Interior Ministry told OC Media that the investigation into attempted murder and illegal possession of fire gun is still pending.
‘Looking at the investigation dynamics, it becomes clear that prosecution was not willing to effectively investigate the case as it delayed important steps for investigation and demonstrated sheer negligence’, EMC wrote.
Surveillance camera footage was not acquired timely, which made it impossible to identify perpetrators, as expert examination was carried out only three years after the accident, said EMC, adding that despite a high probability that Khangoshvili and his family were in danger, Georgian law enforcement officials refused to provide them with special protection measures.