00:18 GMT +307 December 2019
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    Zelimkhan Khangoshvili is pictured against the backdrop of the flag of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria during the Chechen conflict.

    This is What We Know About the Georgian Murdered in Berlin and His Alleged Assassin

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    The killing of Georgian national Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in the centre of Berlin has set off a diplomatic row between Russia and Germany.

    Germany’s foreign ministry today announced the expulsion of two employees of the Russian embassy in Berlin, with Moscow vowing to respond in kind.

    According to Germany, the move was prompted by Russian diplomats’ refusal to cooperate with the investigators in the Khangoshvili murder case, who suspect that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the murder. A Kremlin spokesperson has denied Russia’s involvement in the murder.

    Here are some of the key details of Khangoshvili’s life:

    • Khangoshvili was born in 1979 in Pankisi, a valley region in eastern Georgia with a large Chechen population. He was himself an ethnic Chechen but had a Georgian citizenship.
    • In the late 1990s, he left for the neighbouring Chechnya where he commanded a military unit that fought against Russian forces in the Second Chechen Campaign.
    • According to the head of the Chechen diaspora in Istanbul, Khangoshvili was a “serious” figure in the Chechen guerrilla insurgency and fought alongside Aslan Maskhadov, the third president of the unrecognised Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who was eliminated in 2005.
    • There is indeed a photo of Khangoshvili fishing together with Maskhadov in a mountain river circa 2002. Maskhadov’s son Anzor said that the photo was taken during one of Maskhadov’s regular crossings of mountains and woods in the cat-and-mouse game with federal troops, and that the two weren’t close associates.
    • Khangoshvili returned to Pankisi in mid-00s and started a business; he was reportedly sought in Russia on charges relating to terrorism. He recruited nearly 200 volunteer fighters for the Georgian army during the short-lived conflict with Russia over South Ossetia in 2008, according to Ekkehard Maaß, the chairman of the German-Caucasian Society.
    • The Chechen Islamist survived an assassination attempt in Tbilisi in 2015; the following year he moved to Germany via Ukraine to seek asylum there.
    • Local security services had monitored Khangoshvili as someone “representing a threat to public safety” but dropped the surveillance for unknown reasons in 2018, the newspaper Tagesspiegel reports. 
    • He was reportedly living in Berlin under a fake identity and was visiting weekly Friday prayers at a local mosque.
    • On Friday, 23 August, he was shot in the head from behind in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in broad daylight when he was walking to a prayer.

    What we know so far about the murderer?

    German police said they arrested the suspected hitman, a Russian national identified as Vadim Sokolov, the following day. He is said to have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

    A joint investigative report by Der Spiegel, The Insider and The Bellingcat claims the suspect’s real name is Vadim Krasikov. He allegedly travelled to Germany from Russia under a non-existing identity. According to the report, he had been wanted under an Interpol warrant over a similarly-styled murder of a Russian businessman in Moscow in 2013, but the warrant had since been dropped.

    The reporters imply that Sokolov/Krasikov could have received a fake identity only with the help of Russian authorities. The Kremlin has described allegations of its role in the affair as “groundless”.

    Tags:
    murder, insurgency, Germany, Russia, Chechnya, Georgia
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