German prosecutors said Friday they are investigating a Russian man suspected of helping to plan the murder of a Chechen dissident living in Germany on orders of the Chechen regime.
The probe comes at a time of increasing tensions between Germany and Russia over Ukraine, the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were also holding talks Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a show of support for his pro-Western government after a Russian military build-up on its eastern borders raised fears of an invasion.
German prosecutors named the suspect as Valid D., accusing him of "making a declaration of readiness to commit murder, preparing a serious act of violence endangering the state and violating the weapons act".
He was arrested in January and is in pre-trial detention.
According to German media reports, the target was Mokhmad Abdurakhmanov, the brother of exiled Chechen blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov, who lives in Sweden.
In February 2020, Tumso Abdurakhmanov was struck in the head with a hammer while he was sleeping in his apartment in the Swedish city of Gavle.
A Swedish court in January convicted a Russian citizen of attempted murder.
After the attack, Tumso Abdurakhmanov posted a video showing the assailant, whom he had apparently overpowered, covered in blood. He also brandished the hammer that he said the assailant used to attack him.
Tumso Abdurakhmanov's YouTube channel is critical of Chechen strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov and has around 318,000 subscribers.
- Shooting exercises -
According to Der Spiegel news magazine, the attack on Mokhmad Abdurakhmanov was planned in Bavaria in December.
In the run-up to the killing, those involved had carried out shooting exercises in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, it said.
Valid D. is alleged to have been instructed to bring the murder weapon and the contract killer to Germany, spy on the intended victim and act as a driver during the assassination.
He had managed to smuggle the intended hitman into Germany and obtain a firearm with a silencer, prosecutors said.
According to Der Spiegel, a second suspect in the investigation has testified that the Chechen government offered him 500,000 euros to commit a murder in Germany.
The man claims to have accepted the offer only as a pretence and investigators believe him, it reported.
- Sharpened tone -
Merkel has always stressed the importance of keeping dialogue open with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but she has sharpened her tone in recent months.
The West has accused the Russian government of poisoning Navalny with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok last August, which the Kremlin denies.
Navalny was treated in Berlin before he returned to Moscow in January, where he was imprisoned in a penal colony. His supporters have since become increasingly concerned for his health.
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 last year also revealed that she was the target of "outrageous" hacking attempts by Russia.
Another Russian man went on trial in Germany in October over the murder of a former commander in Chechnya in a Berlin park, allegedly on Moscow's orders.
The 55-year-old named by prosecutors as Vadim Krasikov, alias Vadim Sokolov, stands accused of gunning down Georgian national 40-year-old Tornike Kavtarashvili, in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23, 2019.
A former Chechen separatist turned ardent Kremlin loyalist, Kadyrov, 44, is one of Russia's most powerful men.
Сritics accuse him of creating a fiefdom built on widespread rights abuses and amassing vast personal wealth.
Calling himself President Vladimir Putin's loyal "foot soldier", Kadyrov has branded members of the Russian opposition "jackals" and "enemies of the people".