Russian 'hitman' goes on trial in Germany accused of murder

Russian ‘hitman’ accused of killing a Chechen rebel commander in Berlin with two bullets to the back of the head goes on trial in Germany

  • Vadim Krasikov, 55, a suspected Russian assassin, has gone on trial in Germany 
  • He is accused of shooting dead Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40, in Berlin last year 
  • Khangoshvili, who also went under the name Tornike Kavtarashvili, was a former Chechen rebel commander who Russia considered to be a terrorist 
  • Russia officially denies involvement, but case threatens to worsen relations

Germany will put a suspected Russian hitman on trial for murder today, accusing him of shooting dead a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park last year.

Vadim Krasikov, 55, who went under the alias Vadim Sokolov, is accused of killing 40-year-old Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23.

Krasikov is thought to have carried out the killing on the orders of the Russian state, having entered the country on a fake French-issued passport.

Vadim Krasikov, 55 (left), will go on trial for murder in Germany today, accused of shooting dead Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40 (right), in a Berlin park last year

Khangoshvili, who had been seeking asylum in Germany, led troops fighting against Russia in the Second Chechen War, and was considered a terrorist by Moscow.

The Kremlin has officially denied any involvement in the plot, but nevertheless, the case has the potential to worsen tensions between Berlin and Moscow.

It comes just weeks after Germany accused the Russian state of poisoning Putin’s arch-rival Alexei Navalny with Novichok.

Navalny was flown to Germany for treatment after falling ill in Russia, and is still in the country as he recovers from the poisoning.

Krasikov, whose full name was not revealed by German authorities but was widely reported last year, is accused of shooting Khangoshvili three times – once in the shoulder and twice in the head – in broad daylight in the Berlin park.

Khangoshvili – who was identified by German authorities using a pseudonym, Tornike Kavtarashvili – had been on his way to Friday prayers when he was killed.

Krasikov is accused of hiding in bushes in the park, before coming up behind Khangoshvili on an electric bike and opening fire with a silenced Glock pistol.

Khangoshvili (right, with former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, left) led troops against Russian in the Second Chechen War, and was considered a terrorist by Moscow

Prosecutors allege that he sped away down the Spree River before ditching the bike, a bag containing the murder weapon, and a wig he was wearing into the water.

Sporting a bald head and dressed like a tourist, he is then accused of trying to blend in with nearby crowds. 

But two teenagers who claim to have seen him throwing things into the river identified him to police, who arrested a short time later. 

He has so-far refused to cooperate with authorities. 

Given the high stakes, Wednesday’s trial will likely be closely scrutinised for details pointing to Moscow’s alleged involvement.

Krasikov’s true identity was revealed by investigative website Bellingcat, which said he grew up in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union before moving to the Russian region of Siberia.

He received training from Russian intelligence service FSB and was part of its elite squad, the website said.

Days before the August 2019 killing, he had posed as a tourist, visiting sights in Paris including the Eiffel Tower before travelling to Warsaw, according to a report in Der Spiegel weekly.

He also toured the Polish capital before vanishing on August 22, without checking out from his hotel, the report said. 

Krasikov is accused of using an electric bike to approach Khangoshvili from behind before shooting him once in the shoulder and twice in the back of the head (scene, pictured)

After being arrested in Germany, police found his mobile phone and a return flight ticket for Moscow on August 25 in his hotel room in Warsaw, Spiegel reported. 

Putin had described the victim as a ‘fighter, very cruel and bloody’ who had fought with separatists against Russian forces in the Caucasus and also been involved in bombing attacks on the Moscow metro.

Moscow also said it had been seeking his extradition.

Named as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili by German media, the victim had survived two assassination attempts in Georgia.

Following that, he sought asylum in Germany and had spent the past years in the country.

Both the killing and Navalny’s poisoning have been likened to the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018, also widely blamed on Russian intelligence.

Furious over the killing in a busy park in broad daylight, Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats, sparking a tit-for-tat reaction from Moscow.

Russia has for years drawn the ire of Western powers, from annexing Ukraine’s Crimea to meddling in elections and backing President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

Merkel this year also revealed that she was the target of ‘outrageous’ hacking attempts by Russia.

If convicted, the suspect faces life in jail.

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