Suleiman Dadayev, one of three Chechens currently on trial in Vienna as accessories to the murder two years ago of Chechen refugee Umar Israilov, recently changed his testimony to implicate in the killing Khusayn Gakayev, leader of the Chechen insurgency wing that split last summer with self-styled Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov. Israilov’s father Sharputdin has made public an open letter to Gakayev asking him formally to deny Dadayev’s testimony.
Umar Israilov, who was 27 when he was killed, was a former resistance fighter-turned bodyguard to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. He told “The New York Times” just months before his death that he joined the Chechen resistance as a facilitator shortly after the start of the second Chechen war in 1999, but never participated in combat. He was apprehended in early 2003 by one of the informal militias subordinate to Kadyrov, whose father Akhmed-hadji at that time headed the Chechen interim government. Israilov said he was tortured, then amnestied, and served for a time as one of Kadyrov’s henchmen and then as head of a security detachment in his home village of Mesker-Yurt, southeast of Grozny, before fleeing to Poland with his family in 2004. He was granted asylum in Austria in 2006 and brought a case against the pro-Moscow Chechen administration in the European Court of Human Rights.
Israilov was gunned down on the street in Vienna on January 13, 2009, trying to evade capture by a team of four Chechens apparently tasked by Ramzan Kadyrov to abduct him and take him back to Chechnya by force. His killer has been identified as Lecha Bogatyryov, who managed to escape arrest and return to Russia. He resurfaced last year and was reportedly wounded in an exchange of fire in January with a senior Interior Ministry officer.
The trial of the other three men — Dadayev, Turpal-Ali Eshurkayev, and Ramzan Edilov (aka Otto Kaltenbrunner) — began in November 2010. In the course of the pretrial investigation, the Austrian prosecutors inferred from circumstantial evidence that Kadyrov sent one of his aides, Shaa Turlayev, to Vienna in the fall of 2008 to coerce Israilov to return to Chechnya. Turlayev is believed to have orchestrated the botched attempt to snatch Israilov and transport him back to Russia. But the Austrian authorities admit that they do not have enough evidence to charge Kadyrov in connection with the killing.
Kadyrov’s Moscow-based lawyer Andrei Krasnenkov has ruled out Kadyrov agreeing to give evidence either in person or by telephone, but said he “might” agree to answer written questions.
Kadyrov has personally denied any part in the killing, suggesting that Israilov was killed in an act of blood vengeance by relatives of one of “dozens” of people for whose death Kadyrov alleges Israilov was responsible.
Dadayev, who monitored Israilov’s movements prior to the killing and drove the getaway car, but claims to have been asleep at the time Bogatyryov opened fire on Israilov, first testified on the fifth day of the trial last November. He claimed he was co-opted by fellow Chechens to ask Israilov about $300,000 in missing funds that belonged to the Chechen insurgency, but was satisfied from Israilov’s responses that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the money.
Dadayev professed to have served for a time as a bodyguard to Umarov (when is not clear). He also accused Kadyrov of betraying the cause of Chechen independence, and said he would not have agreed to help abduct Israilov if he had known that Kadyrov was behind that operation.
Cross-examined on March 15, Dadayev reportedly again said Israilov was believed to be in possession of a sum of money belonging to “the sub-unit of a Chechen field commander.” Dadayev said someone was sent from Chechnya in August 2008 to ask Israilov to hand back the money, but Israilov refused pointblank to do so, after which the emissary asked Dadayev to “have a talk with Israilov,” but “did not give him any explicit instructions.”
It appears, however, from Sharputdin Israilov’s open letter, which is dated March 27, that Dadayev explicitly identified Gakayev as having ordered his son’s death. Sharputdin points out that although in his initial testimony Dadayev said he became involved “only by chance” in the chain of events that culminated in the botched abduction, he recently testified that Gakayev telephoned him personally in Austria and ordered him to abduct Israilov to get back the stolen cash that allegedly belonged to an insurgent unit subordinate to Gakayev.
Sharputdin Israilov addresses Gakayev with respect as a “brother engaged in the armed defense of his right to be master in his own country.” He comments that it is clear that Dadayev’s contradictory testimony “reflects the desire to offload responsibility for Kadyrov’s crime on to the amir of the Chechen mujahedin, Khusayn Gakayev” and thus enable the true killers to escape punishment. He asks Gakayev to deny ordering either his son’s killing, or the intimidation and killing of other Chechen refugees in Europe.
In a second open letter, dated March 28 and addressed to the judge, public prosecutor, and jury in the trial, Sharputdin Israilov similarly highlights Dadayev’s contradictory statements concerning the money his son is supposed to have stolen, noting that Dadayev previously claimed the cash was stolen from Kadyrov. He says he would like Gakayev to answer two questions, assuming he is in a position to do so: 1) whether he knew Umar Israilov in Mesker-Yurt, and 2) whether Umar stole money from him.
According to his official biography, from the start of the second Chechen war in 1999 until spring 2006 Gakayev served as a rank-and-file fighter in, then as commander, of a unit in his native village of Elistanzhi in Vedeno Raion, some 30 kilometers southeast of Mesker-Yurt, and then as deputy commander of the Jundulla Islamic brigade that was part of the Eastern Front. It is not clear from that brief biography whether by early 2003, when Israilov was captured by Kadyrov’s men, Gakayev had already been promoted to a position senior enough that he would have had $300,000 at his disposal.
Kadyrov, meanwhile, has every reason to seek to vilify Gakayev, whose fighters staged the attacks in late August 2010 on Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi and in October on the Chechen parliament building.