Austria is investigating whether the weekend killing of a Chechen dissident was politically motivated, the prosecutors’ office handling the case said on Monday, after two suspects were arrested.
The 43-year-old, whom police have declined to identifiy, was shot dead on Saturday near a shopping centre on the edge of Vienna. The two suspects are both Chechens who like the victim have lived in Austria for years, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office in the nearby town of Korneuburg said.
The victim had been offered police protection but declined it, spokesmen for the police and the prosecutors’ office said. Austrian media named him as Mamichan U, also known by the alias Martin B, and said he posted material online critical of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern region of Chechnya.
“Whether there was a political motive or not will of course be verified. That has, however, not yet been established,” the spokesman for the prosecutors’ office said.
The police added in a statement that the issue had “not yet been completely cleared up”.
Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, became head of Chechnya in 2007 in the aftermath of two brutal wars between Russia’s military and separatist and Islamist forces following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Moscow credits Kadyrov with reining in a radical Islamist insurgency in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, but human rights advocates accuse him of presiding over widespread abuses.
There have been several killings in Europe of Kadyrov opponents in which Russian or Chechen involvement has been suspected, such as that of a Georgian citizen in Berlin last year. Russia has denied any connection with that killing.