'Russian' Assassin Sought in Istanbul Murders

Russia denies involvement in execution of Chechen militants by silenced pistol.

ByABC News
September 21, 2011, 12:44 PM

Sept. 21, 2011 — -- A professional assassin slips unnoticed into a sprawling foreign metropolis, quietly slinks through the ancient city before spotting his targets and then -- in broad daylight -- sneaks up behind three men to coldly execute each with a quick succession of shots fired from a silenced pistol. Later, working quickly on a tip, special police break into the hotel room of the supposed assassin to find they're just minutes too late -- the killer is gone.

The way the Turkish and Chechen media tell the story, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three suspected Chechen militants, possibly at the hands of a Russian spy, in Istanbul last week read more like the latest Jason Bourne screenplay than any run-of-the-mill homicide -- and, according to a Russian official, are just as fantastic.

According to several major Turkish outlets, Chechen militant Berg-Khazh Musavei was the main target of what appeared to be a professional hit allegedly carried out by a Russian who entered the country only days before. Two other Chechens, reportedly linked to the violent anti-Russian insurgency, were also killed in the attack.

Musavei is identified by KavKaz Center, a Chechen news outlet sympathetic to anti-Russian Islamic militants, as a "close associate" of terror leader Doku Umarov -- the man who claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing of Moscow's Domodedovo airport in February.

READ: Reports of Chechen Militant Leader Doku Umarov's Death Greatly Exaggerated

According to the Turkish reports, the three Chechens were gunned down just after Friday prayers by a lone gunman who fired 11 shots in less than 30 seconds from the silenced 9mm pistol before speeding away in a black Mercedes. Monday, three days after the attack, Turkish special forces received a tip as to where the assailant was staying, rushed to the location and breached the hotel room, only to find he had fled just minutes before.

But the supposed killer left in such a hurry that his equipment -- including the silenced pistol, a night-vision camera and binoculars -- were left behind, as well as a passport identifying the suspect as a Russian citizen named Alexander Zharkov, the reports said. Ballistic tests on the gun reportedly showed it was the one that had been used in the triple murder.

An official with Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister's office told ABC News that the country's National Intelligence Organization said Zharkov may be linked to the Russian government, and the country's largest English-language paper, Today's Zaman, said officials believe a man carrying the same passport had been in the country in 2009 when other Chechen militant leaders had been mysteriously killed under similar circumstances.

Kavkaz Center and officials with the Chechen Humanitarian Defence and Brotherhood Association directly accused the Russian Secret Service of being involved in the assassinations.

According to a Russian official, however, the Turkish reports about Russian involvement are not based in any fact.

"Those are pure speculations having nothing [to do] with reality," Yevgeniy Khorishko, press officer for the Russian Embassy in the U.S., told ABC News today.

So far, no one has been arrested in connection with the murders.

"There is an intense and detailed search on finding the assailant," Istanbul's governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said Tuesday, according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. "I cannot reveal the details yet, however we are working on the case."

Several Turkish officials in the U.S. did not return requests for comment on this report.

ABC News' Dragana Jovanovic contributed to this report.

[Editor's Note, Sept. 22: This report initially referred to the Russian named in connection to the investigation as Zharkov Alexander. The name is actually Alexander Zharkov.]

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