Friends of murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov have said suggestions that anger over his support for Charlie Hebdo may have led Islamists to kill him are “nonsensical”.
Speculation about an extremist link has increased after investigators charged a man from the Muslim Chechnya region over the shooting and the suspect's former manager said he was angered by the French magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohamed.
The co-leader of Mr Nemtsov’s liberal opposition party, Ilya Yashin, said on Sunday that his “worst fears are coming true”.
"The trigger man will be blamed, while those who actually ordered Nemtsov's killing will go free," he wrote on Twitter.
"Investigators' nonsensical theory about Islamist motives in Nemtsov's killing suit the Kremlin and take Putin out of the firing line."
Mr Nemtsov, Russia’s former deputy Prime Minister, was shot in the back four times on a bridge in the shadow of the Kremlin on 27 February as he walked home from dinner with his girlfriend.
Prosecutors have charged two men, Zaur Dadayev and Anzor Gubashev, with involvement and are holding three others as suspects.
There was reportedly a sixth suspect who blew himself up with a grenade as police attempted to seize him in Grozny, Chechnya, on Saturday night.
Officials say Dadayev, who used to be a commander in the Chechen police's “Sever” battalion, has admitted a part in the killing.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is loyal to President Putin after being installed as head of the republic in 2007, said he knew Dadayev and spoke of his hatred of Charlie Hebdo.
“All who know Zaur (Dadayev) confirm that he is a deep believer and also that he, like all Muslims, was shocked by the activities of Charlie and comments in support of printing the cartoons,” Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram account.
Mr Nemtsov had defended cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed while expressing outrage at the Charlie Hebdo massacre carried out by two jihadists in Paris.
Colleagues had quickly pointed to his vocal criticism of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian war as a motive for either the secret service or ultra nationalists to carry out the murder.
The Russian President strongly denied any part in it and his spokesperson suggested Mr Nemtsov’s death may have been a “provocation” to destabilise Russia, although the politician’s associates still argue the Kremlin stood to gain.
Many do not believe fanatics acting alone could have shot someone dead in the heart of Moscow, close to the well guarded Kremlin and famous Red Square.
Mr Nemtsov was not widely popular in Russia outside the small, urban intelligentsia, but his supporters say he was a threat to the government because he was determined to expose official corruption.
In the days before he was killed, he was working on a report which aides said would allege that Russia was sending regular troops to fight in eastern Ukraine.
The allegations have been widely made by Nato, the US and Western allies but Moscow has denied any direct involvement in the fighting.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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