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Possible political motive seen in Berlin killing of ethnic Chechen exile

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Prosecutors are considering the possibility of a political motive behind the killing on Friday of an ethnic Chechen exile in Berlin, allegedly by a Russian citizen who shot the victim twice in the head as he walked through a park.

The victim, 40, was identified by Georgian human rights organisation EMC as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, which described him as an ethnic Chechen citizen of Georgia, who had fought on the side of rebels who in the 1990s sought to free Chechnya from Moscow’s control.

“We have no evidence pointing towards a classic criminal motive,” said Martin Steltner, spokesman for Berlin prosecutors on Monday, adding that they were considering the possibility of a political motive for the killing.

Steltner said the suspect had been caught as he sought to dispose of the presumptive murder weapon in the nearby Spree River, along with the bicycle he had been riding. The Russian citizen had so far exercised his right to remain silent.

In its statement, EMC said that Khangoshvili had left Georgia and sought asylum in Germany after surviving an assassination attempt in Tbilisi in 2015.

Russia fought major campaigns against separatists in 1994-96 and 1999-2000 in Chechnya, a province located in the Caucasus Mountains on Russia’s border with Georgia. Many anti-Moscow fighters from those wars now live in exile and are at odds with the pro-Russian authorities in Chechnya.

Germany’s capital has increasingly become home to dissidents and opposition figures who fear for their safety in their home countries.

In 2017, an exiled Vietnamese former government official was kidnapped in a Berlin park and smuggled back to Vietnam in a case that strained ties between the two countries.

(Reporting by Reuters TV, Marta Ardashelia in Tbilisi and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Peter Graff)

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