Last Saturday, special Austrian police units hunted down and caught a 47-year-old Russian man from Chechnya suspected of having killed Mamikhan Umarov, an outspoken critic of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The individual and his suspected accomplice have been remanded in custody in Vienna and are refusing to speak to authorities.
Forty-three-year old Mamikhan Umarov was killed at a Gerasdorf parking lot near the Austrian capital. After his bullet-ridden corpse was found, Austrian Interior Minster Karl Nehammer vowed that "a full investigation will be launched" and promised that Austria would show zero tolerance for foreign conflicts being played out on its soil.
A string of hits
Austria is home to an estimated 35,000 Chechens. Most of them arrived in the country as refugees. Many fought in the Chechen independence wars fighting Russian troops. They ranged from 1994 to 1996, and from 1999 to 2000.
Chechen President Kadyrov has ruled the country with an iron first, and his security apparatus is infamous. It is said his agents have no qualms about torturing suspected terrorists and former separatists. To this day, Chechens continue to flee the country, seeking a better live elsewhere.
On Tuesday, dozens of Chechens took to Vienna's streets. Outside the Russian embassy, they demanded an end to the murder of Chechen dissents abroad.
The protest was organized by Chechen exile Hussein Ischanov, who lives in the Austrian capital and runs a Chechen cultural organization. He, too, fought in the Chechen wars and served as an adjutant to former separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov Ischanov. According to him, 19 Chechens were killed in exile in the past years.
Among them was Selimchan Changoschwili, who was shot dead in Berlin's Tiergarten park last August. Germany investors believe Russia orchestrated the hit. In February 2020, a Chechen man was knifed to death in the French city of Lille. And in March, a Chechen individual based in Sweden was attacked in his sleep. Fortunately for him, he could overpower the assailant.
Chechen dissidents in danger
This makes Mamikhan Umarov's death the third attack on a Chechen dissident on European soil this year alone. All three men had previously spoken out against the Chechen president. Mamikhan Umarov has uploaded over 30 videos to YouTube showing President Kadyrov and his family being targeted. While some have called them critical, others have dismissed them as downright insulting.
Ischanov says he watched one of them. "In it, the author mentions people by their full name," Ischanov says. "And he uses curse words that really should not be cited anywhere."
He says many members of the Chechen community were certain Umarov would eventually pay a price for his outspokenness. At one point, rumors circulated that a bounty had been put on his head. The dissident, however, refused to live under police protection.
Austria's Chechen community in fear
Hussein Ischanov says many members of Austria's Chechen community now find themselves fearing for their own safety and that of their families. What about him? "Well, I've been through two wars and was jailed twice; I'm scared of nothing, I've led a decent life, and it won't be up to me to decide when it ends."