Chechen dissident's death was failed kidnapping: prosecutors
The 2009 shooting of a Chechen dissident in Vienna was a failed kidnapping attempt carried out on the order of the Chechen president, prosecutors alleged on the first day Tuesday of the murder trial.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had ordered the kidnapping with the explicit proviso that 27-year-old Umar Israilov must be killed if he resisted, chief prosecutor Leopold Bien said.
"It was clear from the start that Israilov would have to die if the kidnapping did not work," the prosecutor told a packed courtroom in which the victim's widow and father were also present.
The prosecutor conceded however there was not sufficient evidence to prove Kadyrov's involvement.
Israilov, a former member of Kadyrov's security forces who defected and sought asylum in Austria, was gunned down near his Vienna flat on January 13, 2009.
The man believed to have pulled the trigger, Lecha Bogatirov, is on the run.
But his three alleged accomplices -- Turpal Ali Yesherkayev, Suleiman Dadayev and Otto Kaltenbrunner -- are being charged with complicity to murder, associating with criminals, and attempted delivery of an individual to a foreign power, for which they face possible life sentences.
Given the alleged links to the Chechen leader, security was heavy and media attention was intense on the opening day of the trial, which is scheduled to run until November 26.
All three accused deny the charges.
"I have absolutely nothing to do with this and if I had been in the know, I wouldn't have let something like this happen," Kaltenbrunner said, expressing his condolences to Israilov's family "for this tragedy".
A 42-year-old insurance salesman from St. Poelten, Kaltenbrunner is accused of being the ringleader in the shooting.
He "held the overall responsibility for the operation, the logistical preparation and coordination" and "contact with the Chechen leadership", according to the charge sheet read out by chief proseuctor Bien.
Under the prosecution's scenario, Yesherkayev, Dadayev and Bogatirov waited outside Israilov's flat on the day of the shooting, while Kaltenbrunner coordinated their movements from St. Poelten 60 kilometres (37 miles) away.
But the men were taken by surprise when Israilov, leaving his apartment, headed off in a different direction to the one expected.
"That forced them to improvise," Bien told the 12-strong jury.
The defence, however, argued it showed the amateurism of the operation.
According to the prosecution, a first attempt was made to persuade Israilov to return to Chechyna in June 2008. When that failed, a Chechen delegation travelled to Vienna the following autumn where they were met by Kaltenbrunner and Bogatirov at the airport.
According to prosecutor Bien, it was then that the order was given to abduct him.
After the killing, the lawyer for Israilov's family as well as rights activists were quick to point the finger at Kadyrov, whom Israilov was reportedly suing in the European Court of Human Rights over abductions and torture between 2003 and 2005.
Kadyrov's critics say the trial is likely to expose the culture of intimidation carried out by Grozny among Chechen immigrants abroad.
One Austrian lawmaker, Green party member Peter Pilz, claimed Kadyrov maintains a group of agents in Austria whose job is to intimidate and silence critics of his pro-Kremlin regime.
Austria's counter-intelligence service "knows about 30 terrorists on Kadyrov's payroll in Austria," Pilz told a news conference on Monday.
The case could also throw an uncomfortable spotlight on the Austrian authorities, who are accusesd of failing to protect Israilov, although he made several requests from July 2008 until a few days before his murder.
© 2010 AFP