Accessibility links

Breaking News

Chechen man was killed near US military base — what happened?

A petition displays a photograph of Ramzan Daraev, who was shot dead in North Carolina on May 3. ( for Ramzan Daraev)
A petition displays a photograph of Ramzan Daraev, who was shot dead in North Carolina on May 3. ( for Ramzan Daraev)

The shooting death of a Chechen man near a U.S. military base has sparked controversy in the United States after media coverage tied the incident to concerns about foreign surveillance of U.S. military personnel.

Ramzan Daraev, 35, was shot to death on the evening of May 3 during an altercation with an unnamed U.S. military service person on the outskirts of Carthage, a city in North Carolina located an hour away from Fort Liberty, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

The service person, whom media have identified as a U.S. Army special forces colonel at the base, reportedly believed that Daraev was photographing his home. But Utilities One, Daraev's employer, said he was photographing utility poles as part of a local fiber-optics project.

Police noted that Daraev was not wearing a uniform, had no special equipment and carried no identification — all details that raised questions for journalists.

But Daraev's family members, along with Utilities One and one of his coworkers who spoke to Voice of America, say he was just an immigrant doing his job when he was killed.

"Ramzan was not armed and did not show any aggression towards the killer," his sister Diana Daraeva wrote in an online petition calling for her brother's killer to be brought to justice.

No charges filed

Police in Moore County, where Carthage is located, are investigating the shooting. So far, no charges have been filed.

Despite suspicions of foreign surveillance reported in the press, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has not taken part in the investigation. The agency only provided the services of an interpreter to the local police.

"The local investigation has not uncovered evidence of a federal crime. The FBI is in regular contact with sheriff's office investigators and is prepared to investigate if a federal matter comes to light," an FBI spokesperson in Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city, told VOA.

Many questions remain, and the lack of criminal charges a month later has angered Daraev's family.

Who was Ramzan Daraev?

An ethnic Chechen, Ramzan Daraev appears to have come to the United States in 2022 or 2023. According to police, he lived in Chicago, Illinois.

At the time of his death, Daraev was working for Utilities One, a company that provides "infrastructure solutions" in the utilities sector. The company was founded by a native of Moldova and counts among its employees many people from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

In a statement published on its Facebook page, Utilities One said that Daraev immigrated to the U.S. "to escape the conflict between Russia and Ukraine."

In its reporting, U.S. television channel Fox News first connected Daraev's shooting to concerns about surveillance and initially suggested that Daraev was living in the United States illegally.

However, journalist Seth Harp, who is writing a book about Fort Liberty, later published a photo of a valid, category C08 work permit in Daraev's name. Such permits are issued to individuals who have a pending asylum application.

While VOA cannot independently confirm the document's authenticity, Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin later clarified on the social platform X that, according to immigration documents published by Daraev's family, he was in the United States legally.

Daraev's brother declined to comment for this story. VOA was unable to reach other family members for comment.

What led to the shooting?

According to media reports, the unnamed colonel discovered Daraev on property adjacent to his home, which is in a wooded area on the outskirts of Carthage.

At 8:12 p.m., the colonel's wife called the police.

"There's an intruder on our property. My husband has gone to meet him, is now talking to him and yelled to me from the woodline to call the police," she told the operator, according to a recording of the call, which was released on May 30. "[The man has] been very aggressive. They're talking to each other on the property line right now and they're obviously having a difficult time communicating."

Less than 10 minutes later, at 8:20 p.m., the wife called again. This time she sounded panicked and hurried the police, whom the dispatcher said were tied up with other calls.

"I really need the cops here," she said.

"This person is from Chechnya," she continued. "He came up on our property line. My kids were in the backyard. He's taking pictures of our property."

"He's taking pictures of your property?" the dispatcher asked.

"Of our children, of our property, yes," the wife said.

Officers responded to the scene around 8:32 p.m. By that time, Daraev lay dead.

Daraev's family says he was shot twice in the back and once each in the head and hand. No official information about the number and nature of the gunshot wounds has been released.

Police discovered another Chechen man, Adsalam Dzhankutov, 31, nearby. VOA was unable to reach Dzhankutov for comment.

Although Daraev was not carrying ID, officers were eventually able to establish his identity with the help of his relatives and a foreign identification document they found in his car.

VOA was unable to reach the colonel for comment.

Surveillance or misunderstanding?

Daraev's killing occurred at a time of growing concerns in the United States about foreign — and especially Russian — espionage.

Citing unnamed sources, Fox News reported that American intelligence agents abroad frequently use the guise of utilities workers as cover.

U.S. Navy Admiral Daryl Caudle told Fox News that foreign citizens are stopped two or three times a week at the gates of U.S. military bases and installations.

Kazbek Khazbulatov, Daraev's coworker, told VOA that he and Daraev were simply doing their jobs as utility workers.

He said that one Chechen man in the Chicago area had started working for Utilities One and directed five acquaintances — including him, Daraev and Dzhankutov — to the company.

The six of them came down to North Carolina to work for Utilities One on a fiber-optics project for Brightspeed, an internet provider.

"We were saddened to learn from one of our vendors that supports our fiber network build that Ramzan Daraev, someone working on their behalf, was a victim of a deadly shooting," a Brightspeed spokesperson told VOA in an email.

The six men had maps of utility poles and were supposed to photograph them. They did not know who lived in the nearby houses, Khazbulatov said.

Fox News reported that Daraev may have used a telephoto lens, but Khazbulatov claims the men only had their mobile phones.

VOA sent an inquiry to the Moore County Sheriff's Office about whether Daraev had such a lens but received no response.

"Our problem was that we didn't have a uniform," Khazbulatov said.

Daraev was killed on a Friday. According to Khazbulatov, the uniforms were supposed to arrive on Monday.

Why did they start working without uniforms? "The more you work, the more you earn," Khazbulatov said.

What remains unclear is how the confrontation between Daraev and the colonel unfolded, and whether Daraev was "aggressive," as the colonel's wife said in her 911 call.

Khazbulatov said that Daraev's wounds — reportedly, two in the back — indicate he was running away. But he was not a direct witness to the altercation.

Daraev's family is also convinced that he was an innocent victim.

"Ramzan left Russia, not realizing that the greatest injustice against him would be done in a free country, where, in theory, he should have received protection," his sister wrote in the petition.

The investigation into the shooting is ongoing.