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The Russian connection to the hit job in Berlin, which Germany does not want to talk about



What is much rarer is that they appear at noon in the city center. And what is truly unprecedented is when the target is a former Chechen exterminator and a suspected hit on the Russian government.

But that is exactly what happened on August 23rd.

A man following him on an electric bicycle approached and shot him. at close range twice in the head and once in the shoulder. Hangoshvili died instantly; his suspected killer has been arrested and remains in police custody.

If the alleged murderer tried to be discreet, it is fair to say that he failed. Two teenagers saw him throw a gun, a wig and a bike into the Spree River, sparking a murder mystery that swept the country and raised unpleasant questions about Germany's complicated relationship with Russia.

The suspect, who carried a Russian passport, was arrested within hours. But for more than two months, the case is still in limbs: the suspect won't speak, the Kremlin denies involvement, and Germany refuses to point its finger at Moscow without definitive proof.

The killing also cast a dark shadow on tens of thousands of other Chechen migrants living in Europe. Vulnerable to deportation and increasing anti-immigrant sentiment, they say they are closely watching Germany's response to the incident.

"We were in shock"

Hangoshvili has long been a wanted man. His involvement in the Second Chechen War, where he fought alongside colleagues of the Chechen rebels against Russian federal forces, won him a deep feud among parts of Russia's armed forces.

Although he left the resistance movement in about 2005, he could not shake off as easily from his past.

Numerous murder attempts have haunted him and his young family over the years, seeking asylum across Europe, eventually coming to Germany in 201

6 with the hope of finally finding safe haven.

  Zelimkhan Khangoshvili

Khangoshvili applied for asylum three times, but was rejected by everyone, according to Mansur Sadulaev, head of the Chechnya-focused human rights group Vayfond in Vayfond. Both the German immigration authority and the prosecutor in the case declined to confirm the number of applications filed by Hangoshvili.

"All his requests were ignored," he said, despite previous threats of murder and his respectful marital status. At the time, Khangoshvili's wife, Manana Tsatieva, was previously a doctor at a leading private hospital in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The last successful attempt on Hangoshvili's life, when he came, was still unexpected for the European Chechen community. [19659017] "We were in shock," Sadulaev said. "This happened only once before, with [Umar] Israelis," he said, referring to the former Chechen rebel killed in Vienna in 2009. Austrian investigators believe the Chechen government was involved in the killing.

"No one expected this to happen again," Sadulaev said. "The first time might have been a mistake, but the second time was a message. Very clear."

A wanted man

Hangoshvili, who came from the Pankisi Valley in Georgia – and a remote mountainous area on the border with Chechnya, in the North Caucasus – grew up surrounded by war.

The valley is a place of refuge for thousands of civilians fleeing the Second Chechen War, which has raged for almost a decade beginning in 1999. Among them were Chechens who fought against Russian troops.

Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen Georgian, first began fighting Russian forces in 2001, his ex-wife Tsatiev told CNN.

"To join forces fighting for an independent state was perfectly normal," said Tsatieva, a small woman, elegantly dressed in a flowing skirt and headscarf, who moved to Germany with Hangoshvili and their four children.

& # 39; "At that time, it was the best thing you could do for your ry count."

  A police diver is searching for evidence in the Spree River, near the place where Hangosvili was killed.

At the end of 2000, Khangoshvili settled in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Then the attempted murder began.

The first of these was in 2009, according to Alexandre Kvakadze, a research fellow at the Georgia Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, who first met with Khangoshvili around this time; it was the beginning of a long friendship.

"The group tried to poison it, but it did not work," Kvakadze said, adding that Georgian security services had determined that the group was linked to Russian intelligence and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov is a former military known for his brutality – and his allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the eyes of the group, it will be bad enough that Khangoshvili fought in Chechnya.

But he won an additional Russian feud by organizing a group of volunteers – "about 200" of them, according to Kvakadze – from his native Pankisi Valley to fight invading Russian forces during the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 [19659031] Chechen leader: no gays here – but if there are, download them ” data-src-mini=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-small-169.jpg” data-src-xsmall=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-medium-plus-169.jpg” data-src-small=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-large-169.jpg” data-src-medium=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-exlarge-169.jpg” data-src-large=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-super-169.jpg” data-src-full16x9=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-full-169.jpg” data-src-mini1x1=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170717085155-ramzan-kadyrov-hbo-small-11.jpg” data-demand-load=”not-loaded” data-eq-pts=”mini: 0, xsmall: 221, small: 308, medium: 461, large: 781″ src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhEAAJAJEAAAAAAP///////wAAACH5BAEAAAIALAAAAAAQAAkAAAIKlI+py+0Po5yUFQA7″/>

The volunteers did not stand a chance to deploy with Georgian regular members, according to Kvakadze. But they still planned to help with the defense of the capital if that came to pass.

Hangoshvili's contacts with former comrades came in August 2012, when a group of approximately 20 Chechen and Dagestan fighters were cornered by Georgian security forces. on the border with Russia.

Officials with the government of then President Mikheil Saakashvili were brought to Khangoshvili to try to negotiate a peaceful solution. The hotheads prevailed and the skirmish left about half of them dead, despite his efforts.

One day in 2015, Hangoshvili was walking his car in the Saburtalo neighborhood of Tbilisi. Suddenly, a fire broke out behind him, striking him four times in the arm and upper body. He collided with the vehicle and managed to call an ambulance.

"It's a miracle that he survives," says Kwakwadze, who visited Khangoshvili at the hospital shortly after the attack.

"He had to leave Georgia to stay alive"

There were doubtful inconsistencies in the subsequent investigation, according to Kvakadze. The new Georgian authorities, which in 2013 replaced Saakashvili's team with which Khangoshvili worked, say there are no chamber footage for the attack area – despite its location in Tbilisi's central district.

The attack is treated as a minor criminal incident and not as a potentially politically motivated event. Hangoshvili's right to carry a self-defense firearm was revoked in the months leading up to the attempted murder, although authorities did not provide an explanation. No suspect has ever been named or caught.

Hangoshvili was sure who was behind the attack. "He had no doubt that this was Russian intelligence," Kvakadze said. "He suspects the Georgian security services have let them into the country to conduct the operation."

  Putin's Wrong Steps to Kill Russian Spy

Russia has denied any link to the Khangosvili killing. "This case has nothing to do with the Russian state, with the official authorities," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in response to media reports about the case, according to Russian state news agency TASS. "I categorically reject any link between this murder and official Russia.

Even when Gangoshvili heard from informants that there would be another attempt on his life," we had no protection for him, "Tsatieva said.

" We had 10 to 15 friends who protected him around the clock to stay alive, "she added. "But we couldn't go on like that. He just had to leave Georgia to stay alive."

Hangoshvili Shelters in Odessa, Ukraine, in 2015. Again, informants were warned that he would be killed if he

"We wanted to build a bright future in Germany. Have a safer life and be together again as a family. "

.

Shortly after arriving in Germany in 2016, Tsatieva learned that Hangoshvili had another wife in Ukraine who was pregnant. Tsatieva and Khangoshvili – who have been married for two decades – separated and had minimal contact from that point on.

The Hope of Destruction

At first, Hangoshvili's life in Germany seemed safer, but it was no less difficult: his asylum applications were rejected three times.

Now his assassination and new evidence, which claims to be related to the Russian security services, have prompted many to wonder why the German government is uncharacteristically quiet on the subject.

Since the murder, no German authorities have contacted the Hangoshvili family. "To condole or apologize for the lack of protection," Tsatieva said.

"I do not consider it normal for a person to be shot – a person is killed, killed by a person from another country," said ex-wife Tsatieva. "A person who asks for protection – and has been denied protection in Germany.

" I was hoping for some kind of human reaction, "she added, choking tears.

The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, together in the office The prosecutor general declined to comment, telling CNN that they did not discuss individual cases.

So far, the German government's response to the killing has been stifled. Asked by reporters at a press conference in late September, Chancellor Angela Merkel Steffen's spokesman stated that Germany is big

For spokesman for the Chechen rights group Sadulayev, this is unfortunately a predictable continuation of the existing neglect of tens of thousands of Chechen refugees in Europe.

"I cannot say that I am surprised "He is a great power and Germany is not interested in damaging relations on this issue." Chechens are just a nuisance. "

Chechen migrants in Germany and elsewhere in the European Union face many problems. They often experience extreme difficulty in securing status documents, most of which only have a Duldung certificate," temporary deportation suspension. " "Which means that they are required to leave the country at some point in the indefinite future.

  A Chechen asylum seeker in Germany enters their temporary home in Lechin.

This means that they have no legal right to work and their only housing options are usually overcrowded migrant centers.

German political trends and growing anti-immigrant sentiment play a role in Berlin's response, said Guido Steinberg, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security.

"Resistance to asylum seekers has increased dramatically since 2016 and the Chechens do not have the best reputation," he said. There is also a "very strong pro-Russian trend in German politics", including those who will protest against Russia "regardless of the evidence."

There are other complicating factors. "There is a widespread belief that it is impossible to truly integrate Chechens into German society," Steinberg said. Although complicit, he notes some hard truths, including that Chechens "often have low levels of German, even after many years" and that "a relatively large number of [Chechen] jihadis" have left to fight for ISIS and others groups in Syria.

Meanwhile, Steinberg is convinced that if Russia is found to be behind the murder of Khangoshvili, a harsher answer is likely. "The incident is being taken very seriously, but the security services are awaiting insane evidence that this is a Russian operation," he said. "If they come to this conclusion, they are convinced that they must act."

Poor comfort for the family

This will bring some comfort to the Khangoshvili family.

His brother Zurab lives in Sweden with his two children. Shortly after the murder, he traveled to Germany and approached the authorities there, seeking answers. In its latest update earlier this month, German officials told Zurab that the investigation was ongoing and that the case would go to court in the next few months.

In Sweden, Zurab's own children face deportation to Georgia. Zurab said he appealed to the Swedish courts after his brother's death, citing concerns about the safety of his children. But he said his family had been told that since his sons were Hangoshvili's nephews, they were considered "distant relatives" and as such were "not in any danger".

The family sees him completely differently. "We have provided them with so many documents, so much evidence, that their lives will not be safe [there]," said spokesman for the rights group Sadulaev, who is personally involved in the case. "They ignored him. Even Hangoshvili's death was not a good enough reason for his brother to seek asylum."

CNN contacted the Swedish authorities for comment but did not receive a response when published.

Zurab last spoke with his brother on the phone the day before he was killed. "We talked about sending my children to Germany where they can apply for asylum and what they can do as an uncle to help their nephews."

Hours later, his brother is dead. Two months later, the suspect continues to "exercise his right to remain silent," according to Martin Stellner, a spokesman for the Berlin prosecutor's office.

The suspect can be detained for six months, Stellner said. Then, if there is insufficient evidence against him, he will be a free man. However, investigations are continuing, Steltner added, and the evidence is promising.

Meanwhile, the ongoing silence – both from suspects and from Germany – has become deafening to the Khangoshvili family and thousands more Chechen migrants across Europe.


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