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Two weeks after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a Moscow bridge overlooking the Kremlin, the murder remains steeped in mystery.
But as blame begins to fall on the Chechen Muslims, exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev tells IBTimes UK that those who ordered the assassination are to be sought elsewhere.
Russian authorities were quick to arrest five men – all from Chechnya or other parts of Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus – for the murder of Putin's political rival, but claims that the men's motives were linked to Islamist beliefs have failed to convince analysts, and even the general public, with dozens of alternative theories being aired by the media and across the blogosphere.
Russia's official line is that the prime suspect Zaur Dadaïev killed Nemtsov – the 55-year-old former deputy prime minister of Russia – for his support of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, after the January shooting in its Paris headquarters following its publication of cartoons featuring Prophet Mohammed.
Dadaïev was charged in connection with the shooting along with another suspect, Anzor Gubashev.
Three others – Gubashev's younger brother Shagid, Khamzad Bakhaev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov – have also been detained, but not charged.
A sixth suspect, Bislan Shavanov, died in a grenade explosion as police tried to detain him in Chechnya, with authorities saying he blew himself up.
He was also described as a "true patriot" by Chechnya's ruthless leader, Ramzan Kadyrov – a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The statement was interpreted by some Russian newspapers as a hint of an ongoing power struggle between two branches of Putin's power system: Kadyrov and the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's intelligence agency.
Meanwhile, President Putin has dropped from the public scene, fuelling more rumours and speculations.
As the truth on the murder appears still far from clear IBTimes UK asked Akhmed Zakayev, the Prime Minister-in-exile of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, his opinion on the killing and the Chechen lead.
Zakayev, 55, is the last surviving top moderate rebel commander from the first Chechen war. A vocal Kremlin critic, he received political asylum by Britain in 2003.
According to the MI5, he appears high up in a hit list drawn up by Kadyrov and a few years ago, was the target of an alleged murder plot.
Do you know Zaur Dadaïev?
No. I heard about him for the first time from the media in connection to the murder of Boris Nemtsov.
But I can say for sure he is one of the Putin's pupils. Dadaïev and Shavanov, the one who blew himself up – or was blown up – during arrest participated in a military parade in Grozny, during which Kadyrov swore an oath of allegiance to Putin, saying that the 20,000 Chechen militiamen [he commands] are "Putin's soldiers, ready to carry out any order he gives them."
What do you think of Dadaïev's alleged Islamist motive?
I don't believe it at all. A few days ago the newspaper Moscow Komsomolets published evidence that a car linked to Nemtsov's murder had been filmed by security cameras near his house in autumn 2014.Therefore, if the killing was being planned already in autumn it couldn't have been connected to the terrorist attack in Paris that happened in January.
Rest assured that such a demonstrative murder near the walls of the Kremlin, in an area stuffed with surveillance cameras and protected like no other place in Russia, couldn't have been carried out without the knowledge and complicity of the Russian security services. Thus the Chechen Islamist revenge theory is obviously fabricated.
Who do you think killed Nemtsov?
As Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said, this crime has to be judge by two parameters: the motives and resources. Both indicate the Kremlin as the organiser of the murder.
Unless investigators provide the public with a suspect who, just like Putin, had an interest in ordering the death of Nemtsov, I'll believe the responsibility lies with the Russian President [Putin].
Why so, some say the murder was against Putin's interests?
With it, the Kremlin is trying to kill not two birds, but three with one stone. First it has eliminated from the Russian political scene a bright and charismatic opposition leader who tirelessly denounced Kremlin kleptocracy and was preparing a report on the direct involvement of regular Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.
Secondly, the Kremlin has used the murder as an exemplary punishment to frighten other opposition leaders.
And thirdly the Chechens once again appear in the eyes of the world as "fanatical Islamists" and "ruthless killers". This is in line with the general Russian propaganda that is trying to portray us as defective people prone to fanaticism and crime and who, therefore, are unable to build their peaceful, prosperous independent nation.
What do you think is the role played by Kadyrov in this? He has described Dadaïev as a "patriot" and was later bestowed the Order of Honour by Putin…
I do not think that Kadyrov has any independent role in Nemtsov's murder. Many commentators suggested that following the Chechen trail the investigation would have sooner or later would lead directly to Kadyrov, who was said to have fallen out of favour with Putin or his entourage.
To stop these rumours, Putin awarded him some medal. However, I can't rule out the fact that this award might lull Kadyrov's anxiety about his fate so that subsequent blow could catch him by surprise.
You must understand that the Russian establishment is traditionally ruled by the traditional Byzantine mores, where open policy is substituted by intrigue and to predict the moves of those in power is very difficult. But the overall strategy of the Putin regime is obvious: tightening the police regime, already de facto established in Russia.
Regarding Kadyrov's words or Moscow told him what to say or he intuitively understood it himself. What is undeniable is that with his statement he has confirmed the presence of a "Chechen trail" in the murder. He has also confirmed the supposed religious motives.
In short, I have no doubt that Kadyrov's words sounded in unison with the wishes of the Kremlin and aim to clear Putin, as well as Kadyrov himself, from any suspicion.