Chechnya's trail of blood now stains Dubai
The latest apparent contract-killing joins a series of murders in recent months of people that are seen as opponents the Kremlin-appointed president of Chechnya.Moscow -- The killer fired three bullets from a gold-plated gun at the victim's chest as Sulim Yamadayev climbed out of his car in the private car park beneath his luxury residence in Dubai.
Yamadayev was the decorated commander of a famed Chechen battalion, loyal to Moscow. His brother had been gunned down in Moscow just months earlier. And the Yamadayev clan were sworn foes of Chechnya's strongman leader.
The March 28 murder was the latest apparent contract-killing in an extraordinary trail of blood leading from Chechnya that already stretched to Istanbul, Moscow and Vienna. And now the bustling emirate.
Yamadayev was the fifth person to be murdered in recent months seen as an opponent of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed president of Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region of Russia's southern fringe that fought two wars with Moscow.
Even if motives are mangled in the violent history of the North Caucasus, Kadyrov's shadow looms large over all of the recent string of murders.
"All these people had one thing in common: They were all opponents or critics of Kadyrov," said Novaya Gazeta journalist Vyacheslav Izmaylov, an expert on the Caucasus and veteran of the Chechen wars.
"They were opponents of Kadyrov, they said so and they are dead. It makes you wonder why Kadyrov was never called in as a witness by prosecutors," added Grigory Chevedov, local website Kavkaz-uzel.ru's chief editor.
The Yamadayev clan, like Kadyrov, were former rebels who joined pro-Kremlin troops, but they were known as the only challengers to Kadyrov's rule, competing with him for control over Chechnya's security forces.
The attack on Yamadayev came fresh from his brother Ruslan being gunned down late last year in a contract-style killing at the wheel of his BMW in central Moscow traffic.
In recent months, three more Chechen exiles have been seemingly picked off a list of Kadyrov's critics in two separate killings in Istanbul and one in Vienna.
The inner circle
But Yamadayev's case marked a first. Dubai police have accused Adam Delimkhanov, a relative of Kadyrov and now a pro-Kremlin MP for Chechnya in Russia's lower house of parliament, of ordering the assassination.
"It's the first time that such a high-ranking Russian official has been officially declared a suspect by the authorities, and, to top it all off, he's a member of Kadyrov's inner circle," Chevedov said.
Like any Russian MP, Delimkhanov enjoys legal immunity and Russia is likely to refuse any request from the United Arab Emirates for extradition.
"Delimkhanov is officially wanted by Interpol and we will do our best to get him," said Dubai police chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, according to the Gulf News.
Kadyrov and his close ally Delimkhanov, a former Chechen deputy prime minister tipped as a successor, have rejected any links to the murders, repudiating suspicions as "provocations" aimed at destabilizing the region.
The eccentric Chechen leader went even further, saying he was "70 percent certain" Yamadayev was implicated in the assassination of his father, former Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov, who died in a bomb blast in 2004 in Grozny.
Yamadayev, who had been awarded the Hero of Russia, the country's highest honour, was the commander of Vostok, a battle-hardened battalion of former Chechen rebels which won praise in Russia's war with Georgia in August.
But as enmity with Kadyrov mounted in late 2008, his battalion was dissolved, a warrant was issued for his arrest and he fled to the UAE.
The affair coincided with Kadyrov boasting that the Russian authorities were to end a decade-long anti-terror operation in Chechnya due to renewed stability, something that Moscow has yet to do.
Bizarrely, the Russian foreign ministry said that the Dubai authorities have still not informed them of Yamadayev's death, although the press has reported Tamin saying he was buried earlier this month.
Yamadayev's other brother, Isa, has always said Sulim Yamadayev was merely wounded in the attack and that his condition was even improving.
Last month, a would-be-repentant hit man for Kadyrov in Europe, Ruslan Khalidov, claimed the Chechen president kept a list of 300 Chechen émigrés to be taken out, in a video confession posted on the Kavkazcenter.com website.
"Does this list exist? All that we can say is that there are people opposing Kadyrov and these people are dead," Izmaylov said, adding that Kadyrov himself has said he could not allow any challenge to his power in Chechnya.
But Chevedov doubted there was any "rational motive" behind the murders.
"No doubt, they have more to do with a settling of past accounts,” he said. “And as always there are no real investigations in our country. There is no reason to believe that this violence will end."