Chechen emigres in Europe are becoming increasingly apprehensive about their safety following a hammer attack last week by a would-be assassin on a trenchant critic of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
They say the attack, foiled when popular Chechen blogger Tumso Aburakhmanov confronted his assailant, is part of a violent campaign to silence and intimidate them.
In January, a 44-year-old Chechen blogger was stabbed to death in a hotel in the French city of Lille, and a onetime Chechen militant, a citizen of Georgia, was shot dead in Berlin last year. His slaying has been linked by some Western investigative sites to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.
Abdurakhmanov, who’s recovering in hospital from the assault, said he overpowered the assailant, who broke into his apartment armed with a hammer. The blogger captured the aftermath of the alleged attack in a video which was posted to YouTube by the Chechen Human Rights Association.
“Are we afraid of acts of terror against us? Oh sure,” Musa Taipov, a 62-year-old Chechen journalist who lives in Strasbourg, said.
“This is not the first case of attempts and murders of Chechen emigrants. A lot of such murders and attempts were on the territory of Turkey, and now the attempts are taking place on the territory of European countries,” he told VOA by email.
Abdurakhmanov is a high-profile critic of Kadyrov and has a substantial social-media following. He accuses the Chechen leader of having ordered the killings in Lille and Berlin. In the video of the aftermath of the attack, Abdurakhmanov is seen standing over the blood-spattered assailant demanding, “Who sent you? Where are you from? How do you know my address?”
The attacker names himself as Ruslan and said he’s from Moscow and was given the mission by a man in Grozny, the Chechen capital. He adds he’d been coerced into conducting the assault. “They have my mother,” he said.
“An unidentified person broke into Tumso's apartment and tried to kill him with a hammer while he was sleeping,” the Chechen Human Rights Association said. “A fight ensued, during which Tumso managed to neutralize the attacker and call the police.” The association did not identify the country where the attack took place.
Mukhammad Abdurakhmanov, the blogger’s brother, told the Caucasian Knot, an independent news site, that his sibling had been struck on his head during the brawl but was not badly injured.
Taipov, a onetime bodyguard of Dzhokhar Dudayev, the rebel Chechen president killed in 1996, blamed the Kremlin for the string of assassinations of Chechen dissidents in Russia, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Turkey, noting their passports are issued by the authorities in the Russian capital, meaning they seem to have no trouble securing passports.
He told VOA, “The purpose of the killings is to intimidate, silence, spread fear and distrust of each other and others. Despite the conservatism and closeness of the Chechen community, Chechens are open to contacts with everyone. Now, many of us will think before opening the door to our house or apartment.” Other Chechen emigres are becoming vigilant, avoiding meeting people they don’t know and varying their routines.
“We will ensure our security, we are not able to store firearms, even at home, we have no right, so we are practically defenseless against Russian terror,” said Taipov.
The bungled assault on Abdurakhmanov, who is seeking political asylum in Poland, came a year after Magomed Daudov, chairman of the Chechen parliament, warned the blogger a year ago in a video post: “We are not going to kill you, we will amuse you in a surprising way. From now on, when you are going to sleep, make sure that you lock the door.”
Abdurakhmanov, a former executive of an electricity company, fled Chechnya when his car accidentally blocked the motorcade of a Kadyrov family member in 2015, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported. A dispute flared over the incident.
Earlier this month French police officials said they had identified the suspected killer in the assassination in Lille in January of Imran Aliyev, another Chechen blogger, who was stabbed to death in his hotel room. They said he has ties to Kadyrov.
Kremlin officials last week dismissed suggestions of Kremlin involvement in the slaying and attacks on Kadyrov’s Chechen critics. Asked why the Chechen leader’s foes were being attacked, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, suggested to reporters Thursday that the attacks are not linked, saying, “We are not inclined to draw parallels.”
He said Polish police would likely investigate the attack, adding, “we don’t think it is an important incident for Russia’s agenda.”