Christiaan Triebert+ Your Authors @trbrtc Visual Investigations @nytimes. Previously @bellingcat. Monitoring things, mostly niche. Retired hitchhiker. @quiztime. Usual caveats. Sep. 26, 2019 2 min read + Your Authors

After a brazen murder of a former Chechen separatist in Berlin, a suspect was quickly arrested. Investigators think his identity is fake. Then, a mysterious tip via ProtonMail: he's a Russian cop-turned-hitman. But is he really? (w/ @mschwirtz & @kbennhold) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/world/europe/berlin-murder-russia.html 

Update, another twist: @FontankaNews reports that Stepanov, the convicted St. Petersburg policeman mentioned in the anonymous ProtonMail, was still locked away in the IK-11 penal colony, and had in fact reported for roll-call and breakfast this morning.  https://www.fontanka.ru/2019/09/26/159/ 

At least one foreign intelligence agency rated the tip as credible, and several are aware of it. Which begs the question.. is the ProtonMail disinformation? An honest misidentification?

Two things are worth keeping in mind in whatever is the case.. 👇

Firstly, German investigators told @nytimes that they submitted a request to Russian officials to verify whether Stepanov was still in the specified prison. Fontanka's reporting suggest he is. Why then did the Russian authorities left the German request unanswered?

Secondly, there's little certainty that the man in custody is the same as the St. Petersburg cop who moonlighted as a hit man. So, who then is “Vadim Andreevich Sokolov”?  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/world/europe/berlin-murder-russia.html 

Previously, @Bellingcat, @the_ins_ru and @DerSPIEGEL disclosed that Sokolov traveled on a valid Russian passport, thus suggesting a link between the hitman and the Russian state. He also used a non-existent address for his French Schengen Visa.  https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2019/08/30/suspected-assassin-in-the-berlin-killing-used-fake-identity-documents/ 

It's an absolutely bizarre case. And more information will come out tomorrow.

Most of the talk is about the suspect Sokolov. But info on the victim, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili (a former Chechen separatist commander fighting against Russian forces), is very interesting as well. Good primer by @Mike_Eckel:  https://www.rferl.org/a/chechen-commander-khangoshvili-berlin-assassination-moscow-(and-grozny)/30133813.html .

There were several assassination attempts on Khangoshvili. Some new light on a 2006 attempt in Georgia (🇬🇪): It failed, because Georgian security forces managed to intercept the killer, who was, interestingly, also a former Russian inmate.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/world/europe/berlin-murder-russia.html 

Fascinating detail on “Vadim Sokolov” here, suggesting an even stronger link of it being a cover identity. His details were first entered into the Russian tax system on June 16 and he received his tax ID on July 23 — roughly a month before the murder.  https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2019/09/27/new-evidence-links-russian-state-to-berlin-assassination/ 

Why that’s fascinating? @AricToler explains.

More news today. It's been previously reported that Khangoshvili cooperated with the Georgian Interior Ministry, but @michaeldweiss has learned that the target of the Berlin assassination worked as a spy against jihadists and the FSB.  https://www.thedailybeast.com/zelimkhan-khangoshvilis-murder-in-berlin-the-untold-story-of-a-chechen-jihadist-turned-secret-agent 


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