US officials believe that Russia was behind the execution of a former Chechen rebel in Berlin in August, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a former commander who fought Russian troops in the second Chechen War between 2001 and 2005 was shot dead in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in central Berlin around midday on August 23rd.
Two teenage boys witnessed the execution style murder and alerted the police, who quickly arrested a 49-year-old Russian national fleeing the scene on a scooter.
According to Wall Street Journal reports, the man had worked for the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and had recently been released from a Russian prison where he was serving a sentence for murder.
At the time of his arrest he was carrying a Russian passport in the name of Vadim Sokolov, which US officials believe to be a cover.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement of the Russian government in the murder.
“Of course, this case has nothing to do with the Russian state and its authorities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Interfax agency in Moscow.
Khangoshvili was a close ally of Aslan Maskhadov, leader of the separatist Islamist group that rebelled against Russian rule. Since then, Moscow has considered Khangoshvili to be a terrorist and an enemy of the State.
He then left Georgia with his family and moved to Berlin, where, according to the German press, he lived under an assumed identity in order to protect himself. His son, quoted in the German press, claimed that Mr. Khangoshvili had escaped several assassination attempts in the past, including being shot eight times in 2015.
The murder in broad daylight of an enemy of the Kremlin in a Western country has led to comparisons to the poisoning of Russian-British agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia in Salisbury in the UK in March 2018: “rekindling concerns that Moscow is ramping up an assassination campaign against the country’s perceived enemies abroad,” said the Wall Street Journal.