Outrage over murders of Chechnya aid worker and husband

Assassination of Zarema Sadulayeva and Umar Dzhabrailov will pile pressure on Kremlin to stem wave of kidnaps and killings

Human rights campaigners in Russia have expressed their outrage after a prominent aid worker and her husband were shot dead in Chechnya, less than a month after the killing of Natalya Estemirova.

Zarema Sadulayeva and Umar Dzhabrailov were found with gunshot wounds in the boot of their car in a Grozny suburb last night.

The couple's assassination will pile pressure on the Kremlin to stem a wave of kidnaps and killings that has seized Chechnya this year. It comes weeks after Estemirova, an internationally recognised activist and head of the Memorial human rights group's office in Grozny, was abducted and shot dead.

"It is monstrous," said Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Russia. "We thought that after Natalya's death there would at least be a lull. We're absolutely stunned."

It was unclear why the couple were killed. Dzhabrailov was a former resistance fighter who had spent four years in prison, and security forces in Chechnya have frequently exterminated people suspected of links to the rebels or "non-traditional" Islam.

The couple were kidnapped at about 2pm yesterday from the central Grozny offices of Let's Save the Generation, a humanitarian organisation headed by Sadulayeva that has worked in partnership with Unicef to help children who have lost limbs in mine blasts. A third employee of the group, himself a mine victim in a wheelchair, witnessed the abduction.

"There were five men, three in camouflage, two in black, and they spoke in Chechen," said Alexander Cherkasov, a senior official at Memorial. "They said they were from the security services and that they had to take the couple for questioning."

The men left a contact telephone number and returned to the office a short while later to collect Sadulayeva's mobile and to take Dzhabrailov's car. Calls to the contact number were not answered and the couple's bodies were discovered in the car around midnight in Chernorechye, an industrial suburb of Grozny.

In April, Russia announced it was ending its counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya because of an improving security situation after ten years of conflict with separatist and Islamist rebels. The republic's Kremlin-appointed president, Ramzan Kadyrov, frequently boasts that Chechnya is "the calmest place in Russia" but rights activists say that kidnappings – often committed by uniformed men – have increased since the beginning of this year.

Lokshina said: "Sadulayeva was a humanitarian worker who didn't do anything to arouse the disapproval of the authorities. It's hard to say who may have done it and why, but what is clear is that Chechnya is now out of control."

The Russian prosecutor general's office said it had dispatched a team of forensic experts to Grozny to investigate the murder.


Tom Parfitt in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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