The "mop-up"* of Europe (interview with Magomed Ocherhadji)
On March 4 a video clip was posted to YouTube in which a man named Ruslan (Aslan) Khalidov tells how he was ordered to assassinate Magomed Ocherhadji, the unofficial leader of Norway’s large Chechen exile community. In the video, Khalidov gives a detailed description of prisons run by various individuals and law enforcement units, and the torture to which prisoners are being subjected.
Khalidov says he is only one of a large band of assassins who now operate throughout Europe and are under the control of Shaa Turlayev, a former bodyguard of President Aslan Maskhadov who is now Ramzan Kadyrov’s closest proxy. The unsuccessful killer claims that the operations aimed at the killing of persons who are out of favour with Kadyrov have been authorized Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and are being overseen by it.
Magomed Ocherhadji is 29. He has been living in Europe for about two years. As the commander of one of the military units of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) he fought directly under Maskhadov’s leadership. He takes an active public role in supporting the freedom and sovereignty of Chechnya. We contacted Magomed Ocherhadji and asked him to answer several questions.
Prague Watchdog: What, in your view, is the reason for the Kadyrov regime’s interest in Chechens living beyond Russia’s borders? Why has the shooting of Kadyrov’s political opponents begun during recent months?
Magomed Ocherhadji: It was roughly two years ago that the Kadyrov regime began to turn its attention to Chechens who had settled in Europe – it happened just at the time when I arrived in Norway. But back then Kadyrov’s emissaries acted with more caution. It was a time of great ferment. Those people who had earlier taken upon themselves the duty of representing in the West the interests of the Chechen resistance and the European diaspora began to return to Chechnya. There they surrendered to the victor’s mercy and received amnesty, in exchange for which they acquired power, money and Kadyrov’s favour.
In this connection, until quite recently the mood of quite a large number of the refugees has been very insecure, and many had given up hope. The masses were demoralized by the flight of their leaders. People began to think that all was lost, and that no serious opposition could be successfully organized. "We have nothing," they said, "while Kadyrov has total support from Russia – both financial and in terms of human resources."
But then the situation began to change. Organizers appeared, who set about resuming the public activity that had previously been the job of the people who had fled. This gradually started to show results, and there was a sort of mobilization – people began to hold rallies again, and those who’d been doubtful began to return to their former ideals.
PW: So the new activity by Kadyrov’s forces in Europe was caused by the emergence of politically active leaders of the Chechen diaspora in Norway. But before that, did you feel that you were the subject of interest?
MO: There were several episodes. Not long ago the Russian Ambassador to Norway tried to make contact with me.
A little later a professor from Grozny got in touch. We met at a press conference which he attended solely in order to see me. He proposed that I should collaborate with the Moscow-backed authorities in Chechnya and promised that I’d receive a lot of support from them. So I knew that the interest was there, but I never imagined that someone would try to kill me here in Norway.
PW: Some people believe that Khalidov just wants to play on well-known events and add to his own importance by calling himself a hit-man for Kadyrov. However, most are convinced he is telling the truth. Are you one of them?
MO: The way he talks and conducts himself shows that he’s deeply ashamed. He is really cut up about his past and his relationship with Kadyrov. You need to understand the atmosphere that has developed here. Most local Chechens take an extremely negative view of Kadyrov and the Moscow-backed authorities. The status of being Kadyrov’s hit-man couldn’t possibly add to his importance, especially as he himself explains that there are a lot of such people, and it’s known as "unskilled labour" [chernaya rabota].
Khalidov is embarrassed, he’s suffering, doesn’t want to see anyone. You can also sense that religious faith plays a major role in his repentance, as if he’s already seeing himself face to face with God.
PW: And why has a person like that been assigned the far from simple task of killing – whether it’s you or someone else? It’s not exactly a walk in the park, after all. It needs someone with strong nerves, the right kind of past.
MO: The fact is that in the eyes of Kadyrov’s lot he was a killer. His having an inclination for repentance doesn’t mean anything. There are killers who weep, and killers who moan. There are depressive types. They’re often found among the snipers.
Actually, we were also taken in by those characteristics of his. We never expected that he might turn out to be someone with such a complex double identity. We’ve just begun gathering information about him, and it transpires that he was charged with the murder of the head of the ORB-2 police unit in Shali. It was a cold-blooded murder. Shots were fired at the policeman has he left the mosque. He tried to escape, but they got him in the back. It was a brutal way to die, even though he himself had numerous crimes and the deaths of many people on his hands.
PW: So it’s exactly like the killing of Israilov – a man was caught, and then Kadyrov offered to work on him?
MO: Yes. This man says openly that he was in a terrible state, was really frightened, although until then he’d never thought he was a coward. He says that the guys who refused to cooperate were horribly murdered. Some of the wounded were buried alive. He saw a lot of things like that – women being tortured and raped.
Yes. He’s visited a lot of places. Kadyrov’s house in Khosi-Yurt, the base in Avtury, some 6th company or other, and then the Shali ORB-2, I think, some other places too, and finally ended up with his uncle, Shaa Turlayev. Turlayev released him, and after that the epic with the Kadyrovites began.
PW: And what does he have to say about life among the Kadyrovites?
MO: What he says is nothing new. Many who have been there tell the same story. Filthy language and abuse from morning till night, constant beatings and rape. And they don’t just rape women but men as well. People are hung up in bags and their feet are beaten to a pulp. They’re given electric shocks. But he says that was rare, and it was even a kind of relief, as the other types of torture were much more painful. People are beaten half to death with the handles of shovels. And there’s also the psychological pressure, which is kept up constantly.
PW: Khalidov has been in Norway for something like a year. What has he been doing there?
MO: He’s been openly co-operating with the authorities, acting as a sort of member of the Norwegian law enforcement bodies. Indeed, he’s had special equipment – a beacon which calls in reinforcements, including helicopters when it’s activated. The police used its signal to cordon off the entire area. And he’s had a lot of police protection as part of the very expensive witness protection program.
PW: It’s claimed that there’s a special program for the elimination of politically active Chechens who have cooperated with the underground. Is that true?
MO: We have information from sources that we trust, and we can say that such a program does indeed exist. There is nothing that will stop these people. Now they don’t hesitate to carry out killings in Europe. Khalidov didn’t make a new discovery, this has long been known.
I am certain that all the killings are carried out in one way or another by the Russian special services.
PW: Do you plan to ask the Norwegian authorities for protection?
MO: I’ve been in contact with them on this matter. They know that there’s a real threat, and they don’t deny it. So far I haven’t had any offer of protection from them. Of course, I can’t help noticing the strange people who follow me back to the place where I live.
The discussion of this subject with Norwegian officials had been going on even before the Khalidov video appeared on the Internet. They learned of a possible attack before I did.
* A “mop-up” (zachistka) is a special operation to identify, apprehend or eliminate members of illegal armed formations.
(Translation by DM)
(P/T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Chechen government's statement on Khalidov (Chechnya.gov.ru, 7.3.2009)
· A statement by the Chechen human rights commissioner (Grozny-inform, 6.3.2009)