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Trial begins in killing of Chechen refugee dissident in Austria

Three men go on trial in Vienna on Tuesday for complicity in the murder of Chechen dissident Umar Israilov. But attention has fallen on one man who isn't present: Prosecutors claim links to the Chechen president.

Ramzan Kadyrov

Kadyrov employed torture, according to the murder victim

The trial of three Chechens charged with complicity in the murder of a dissident began in Austria on Tuesday, in a case that has implicated the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

State prosecutors in Vienna are seeking to establish ties between Kadyrov and the killing of Umar Israilov, as three men go on trial for in the Chechen dissident's murder. Israilov, the Chechen president's former bodyguard turned critic, was gunned down on January 13, 2009, near his home in Vienna.

Investigators say one of the accused planned the killing, while another followed the victim and the third drove the car carrying the shooter. The gunman is believed to have fled Austria.

The case has received considerable attention from human rights activists, who have pointed fingers at Kadyrov from the beginning. On Monday, Austrian parliamentarian Peter Pilz accused Kadyrov of maintaining several secret agents in Austria to intimidate critics of his pro-Kremlin regime.

The Green Party lawmaker told reporters that Austria's counter-intelligence service "knows about 30 terrorists on Kadyrov's payroll in Austria."

"Their mission is to intimidate members of the opposition, threaten them and in some cases attack, kidnap and murder, like in the case of Israilov," Pilz alleged.

The Kremlin, Moscow

Kadyrov is known for his close ties to Moscow

Implications could reach Moscow

The trial could have far-reaching political implications if prosecutors succeed in drawing a link to Kadyrov, according to Austrian human rights lawyer Manfred Nowak.

"Of course [Kadyrov] has a good connection to the leadership in Moscow," Nowak said, adding that if “Kadyrov himself is involved in severe crimes and human rights abuses, then that could lead to a liability for Russian foreign policy."

Austrian police have said in a report that there were clear links between Israilov's murder and President Kadyrov, but Nowak doubted charges would be brought against the Chechen president.

"To bring a criminal charge one has to have really strong evidence; clues are not sufficient," the former UN special rapporteur on torture said.

Police failed to save Israilov

Israilov's murder has been a great embarrassment to the Vienna police, whom the victim repeatedly told he was being pursued and asked for protection.

Nadja Lorenz, the lawyer representing Israilov's family, said police should have done more.

"The end of this tragic story was that a number of emails were sent [to police] which named one of those who is now on trial," she said. "The last email which was sent [by police] told Israilov to call the emergency number if needed … Seven days later he was murdered."

A witness silenced

European Court for Human Rights

Israilov was a witness before the European Court for Human Rights

Israilov filed charges against Kadyrov after fleeing the Chechen Republic in 2006, claiming to have witnessed killings and tortures conducted by Kadyrov and his paramilitary forces. He and his father became key witnesses in a case against the Russian and Chechen governments at the European Court of Human Rights, alleging the Chechen regime had implemented systematic torture and other human rights abuses.

The case was eventually dropped after Israilov and his father disappeared into hiding and couldn't be reached for further questioning.

Israilov's widow is reported to be living in Austria with her four children. His father, who is said to have fled Europe in fear of his life, was expected to return to Vienna for the court hearing under heavy security presence.

Author: Kerry Skyring, David Levitz (AFP, AP)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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