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German prosecutors charge Russian over brazen Berlin killing

BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors on Thursday filed murder charges against a Russian man accused in the brazen daylight slaying in Berlin last year of a Georgian man, and said that the Russian state ordered the killing — adding to tensions between the two countries.

The case prompted Germany in December to expel two Russian diplomats, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation of the Aug. 23 killing. Russia's ambassador was called in to the foreign ministry in Berlin again on Thursday.

The victim, Tornike K., who also has widely been identified in reports on the killing as Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, was a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. He had previously survived multiple assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing to Germany in 2016.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors filed charges of murder and a violation of weapons laws in a Berlin district court against a Russian citizen they identified as Vadim K., alias Vadim S. His last name was withheld in line with German privacy laws but has been widely reported as Vadim Krasikov, using the alias Vadim Sokolov.

They said that, at some point before mid-July last year, “state agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation” tasked him with “liquidating” the victim. The suspect “accepted the state killing assignment,” prosecutors said in a statement. “He either hoped for a financial reward or he shared the motives of those who tasked him to kill a political opponent and take revenge for his participation in earlier conflicts with Russia.”

Proseutors say that the killer approached Tornike K. from behind on a bike in the small Kleiner Tiergarten park and shot him in the torso with a Glock handgun equipped with a silencer. The victim fell, and the assailant then fatally shot him twice in the head. The suspect was arrested near the scene shortly afterward and has been in custody ever since.

Prosecutors say that the suspect flew from Moscow to Paris on Aug. 17 — using a passport that had been issued by a government office in Bryansk, Russia, in the name of his alias on July 18 — then continued to Warsaw on Aug. 20. The day before the killing, he traveled to Berlin.

The murder case and alleged Russian involvement in the 2015 hacking of the German parliament have weighed on relations between the two countries in recent months. Last month, Germany said it was seeking European Union sanctions against a Russian man over his alleged role in the hacking.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna on Thursday, after the prosecutors' announcement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “We once again invited the Russian ambassador for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry today to make our position unmistakably clear again to the Russian side, and the German government expressly reserves the right to take further measures in this case.”

“This is certainly an exceptionally serious matter, and so from the German government's point of view it is imperative that this matter be cleared up comprehensively by judicial authorities and the courts,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, last year called the allegations of Russian involvement in the killing “absolutely groundless.” The victim had lived in Germany as an asylum-seeker since late 2016. According to German prosecutors, he led an anti-Russian militia in the second Chechen war of 2000-2004, then in 2008 was tasked by the Georgian government with putting together a volunteer unit to defend that country's South Ossetia region. The unit was never deployed because of peace negotiations between Georgia and Russia.

Russian authorities had classified him as a terrorist and accused him of being a member of the “Caucasus Emirate” extremist organization, prosecutors said.

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