A man suspected of murdering a Chechen opposition leader in France a month ago returned immediately after the gruesome stabbing to Russia’s restive north Caucasus region, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Stabbed 135 times, the body of Imran Aliev, 44, was found in a hotel room in the northern French city of Lille on January 30.
The “prime suspect,” who is believed to have stayed at Aliev’s home in Belgium on the preceding days, was born in Russia and apparently lives in Chechnya, just like Aliev, the Lille prosecutor’s office said.
Belgium granted Aliev political refugee status in 2012, sources close to the case said. Prosecutors have not released the name of the suspected murderer.
“On the day of the events, having quickly left France, he flew to Berlin to travel to Moscow the day after,” the office said in a statement.
“From there, he boarded an internal flight for Mineralnye Vody, an airport in Russia’s North Caucasus,” about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Chechen border, the statement said.
“For the time being, he has not faced any questioning,” the prosecutor’s office said. “Judicial and police cooperation from concerned European countries have already been sought.”
Aliev had arrived in Lille from neighbouring Belgium on the night of January 29 to January 30 along with another man who was also travelling on a Russian passport. They both checked into a hotel room in front of the Lille-Flandres train station.
The emergency services entered the room around 1030 GMT on January 30 and discovered Aliev’s body.
Aliev had gained a following as a video blogger at times critical of the Chechen leadership under its strongman ruler Ramzan Kadyrov.
Suspicion immediately emerged that the killing was a political assassination and could be the latest in a series of suspected moves against troublesome figures living in exile in Europe and critical of the Kremlin or Russia’s regional leaders.
Weeks ago a prominent exiled Chechen blogger based in Europe, who goes by the name of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, had claimed that the suspect, whom he even identified by name, had returned to Russia and was safely back in Chechnya.