Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader has denied the triple murder of Chechens linked to terrorism in an Istanbul suburb last month was carried out by a hit squad working on the orders of either Grozny or Moscow.
An investigation by The Independent into the 16 September killings found Turkish police believe a team of up to nine professional killers working for the Russian government was behind the assassination of Berg-Khadzh Musayev, a leading figure in the Caucasus Emirate Islamist terrorist movement.
But Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen President, said yesterday that he had information that they had been carried out on the orders of Doku Umarov, the rebel leader of the Caucasus Emirate, possibly in collusion with Akhmed Zakayev, part of the more moderate wing of the Chechen independence movement who lives in exile in London.
"We have information that this is an internal settling of scores among bandit groups," said Mr Kadyrov. "It can't be excluded that Zakayev is also involved in this. It's possible that it's all about money."
There will be scepticism over Mr Kadyrov's version of such a carefully planned assassination. A source close to the investigation in Istanbul claimed the operation was led by two Russians, travelling under the names of Alexander Zharkov and Nadim Ayupov.
The source also named a Chechen, Ziyauddin Makhayev, who was believed to be aiding the group. Mr Makhayev is known as an aide to Mr Kadyrov, although the Chechen leader's spokesman has denied the two are close. When contacted last week, Mr Makhayev referred to the allegations that he took part as "propaganda".
Prior to the killings, three other prominent Chechen exiles have been killed in Istanbul in the past three years. Istanbul is home to around 2,000 Chechens, including members of Mr Umarov's family and inner circle.Reuse content