An outspoken blogger from Chechnya who had criticised the country’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been found brutally murdered in France, several of his acquaintances have said, in the latest killing of a Chechen dissident in Europe.
Imran Aliev, 44, was found dead late last week in a hotel room in the city of Lille. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck. Accounts of Aliev’s murder were confirmed by a Chechen opposition journalist who knew Aliev, and by one other Chechen living in Europe who asked not to be named because of concerns for his safety.
The police have not yet named any suspects, although police sources have told French media that they suspect the motive may be political. Chechens living in exile who have fought or spoken out against Kadyrov – the ruthless Chechen leader appointed by Vladimir Putin – have often been targeted for assassination. Last year, a former Chechen rebel commander was shot twice in the head in a targeted killing in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten. The suspected assassin is Russian.
Aliev, who settled in Belgium after leaving Chechnya, was described as an eccentric figure who often published YouTube videos critical of the Chechen government under the pseudonym Mansur Stariy, or Old Mansur.
“He was murdered especially cruelly,” wrote Musa Taipov, a Chechen opposition journalist based in Strasbourg who said he was in regular contact with Aliev. In a Facebook post, Taipov described Aliev as a “difficult but honest” acquaintance who was managing a difficult illness with painkillers and would sometimes issue “not entirely proper declarations”.
“Some people, they offended. For others, they were ‘funny’,” Taipov wrote. He sometimes urged Aliev to delete the YouTube videos, Taipov said, and “most of the time he agreed”.
Thousands of refugees from Chechnya live in Europe. Many fled the two wars that devastated the region from the 1990s, while others escaped the brutal crackdown against dissent under Kadyrov, who has headed the region since 2007 and runs it as a near-fiefdom.
The trail of assassinations of prominent Chechens in Europe and the Middle East stretches back more than a decade, and includes former rebel commanders and government critics. Increasingly, the attacks have targeted people who posed no real political danger to Kadyrov, but merely took to Instagram or YouTube accounts to voice their dissatisfaction with Chechnya’s leaders in Grozny.
“I have no doubt that [Aliev] was on a list of people who have been sentenced to death,” said Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a video blogger living in Europe who has received threats from allies of Kadyrov for his criticism on YouTube of Chechnya’s government.
Abdurakhmanov claimed that before Aliev’s murder, he had received information that a hitman from Chechnya had been dispatched to Europe, and shared the details of the man’s itinerary with German police. Abdurakhmanov said he initially believed that the hitman was targeting him. He declined to reveal the source of that information.
However, Taipov said in an interview he was sceptical that Kadyrov was behind the killing. He told the Guardian that Aliev had received a wave of threats last month from natives of Ingushetia, another region of Russia, because of insulting remarks concerning a border conflict with Chechnya.
Aliev had even been put under police protection, Taipov said, and may have been lured to Lille because it was just beyond the jurisdiction of Belgian police. “There is no logic to this murder, either in the motivations or in the way it was carried out,” he said.
The murder of an unidentified man at the Hôtel Coq Hardi near Lille train station was first reported on 30 January by La Voix du Nord, a local newspaper. According to the paper, the body of the man was found in his room by the cleaning staff after he failed to check out of his room. The body bore multiple stab wounds to the neck and a knife, the suspected murder weapon, was also found in the room.
The newspaper did not identify Aliev. But on Monday evening, the French news agency Agence France Press reported that the victim was Aliev, citing sources in the French police who added that he was travelling with another man “of the same nationality”.