Ruslan Akhtakhanov, a well-known Chechen poet and activist, was gunned down Wednesday night in Moscow. Police suspect the writer may have been the target of a contract killing ordered by Chechen nationalists.
MOSCOW -- Chechen poet and social activist Ruslan Akhtakhanov has been shot dead outside his central Moscow apartment in what his friends have told Kommersant was a contract killing by Chechen separatists.
Less than an hour before his death, Akhtakhanov, 58, attended a ceremony where he read out poems about the brotherhood between Russians and Chechens. It is believed men were waiting outside his apartment where he parked his Toyota Camry. The assailants opened fire, hitting Akhtakhanov in the chest. The poet fell, and then received a shot to the head.
Police say there were no witnesses but are questioning passersby who found Akhtakhanov on the pavement. Police retrieved cartridge cases and 9mm calibre bullets at the scene of the crime. A few hours later, at the other end of town, police found a burnt-out Ford Focus, believed to be the getaway car for the attackers. It contained a pistol, silencer and stolen license plates.
The case bears the hallmarks of a 2010 killing by Chechen separatists of Russian military officer Yuri Budanov, who was convicted of rape and murder in the second Chechen war.
Akhtakhanov's death is likely to reignite concerns of increased inter-ethnic discord at a time when Moscow continues to face scrutiny over human rights abuses in its restive Caucasus region.
The slain writer's friends told Kommersant he spent his last night at a prize-giving ceremony at an annual competition honoring investigative journalist Artyom Borovik, who died in a plane crash in 2000. They described seeing a suspicious group of young men, possibly in their 20s, leave the theater.
"We took them by surprise and they pulled their baseball caps down over their heads," of the friends recalled. "Walking past them, we could see they were unshaven and looked like they were from the Caucasus rather than Russian. We had no idea that less than an hour later, a tragedy would happen."
Akhtakhanov published collections of poems and was admitted to the Union of Writers of Russia. He set up the Democratic Progressive Party and said Chechnya should develop as an independent, democratic and secular state.
His friends believe his secularism may have been what led to his death as it was at odds with religious extremists and nationalists in the North Caucasus who viewed him as an apostate. Extremists took Akhtakhanov hostage in 1998, holding him for 47 days.
"He was a public figure and one of the most active representatives of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow and for this reason could be the target for the nationalists," said Khamzat Gerikhanov of the Association of Chechen Public and Cultural Organizations.
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