World News

Charity head found dead in Chechnya: rights group

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The kidnapped head of a charity helping children in Russia’s troubled Muslim republic of Chechnya was found dead of gunshot wounds in the boot of a car on Tuesday along with her murdered husband.

The deaths of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were the latest in a string of killings in the region, where Moscow twice fought wars against separatists following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Armed men seized the couple from the office of the Save the Generations charity in the regional capital Grozny on Monday, said Memorial official Alexander Cherkasov, whose organization tracks kidnappings in the region.

“Both bodies were found this morning in the Chernorechye suburb of Grozny,” Cherkasov told Reuters. Local officials said they had opened a criminal probe but the motive for the killings was unclear.

The Save the Generations charity that Sadulayeva headed, provides medical and psychological help to young people who have suffered as a result of violence in Chechnya, including children who lost limbs during the region’s separatist wars.

“There was no political element (to their work),” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki rights group.

“They just helped disabled children and children from poor families...It just shows that anyone whose position allows them a gun can kill whoever they like.”

Last month leading Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and murdered by unknown assailants, triggering international outrage.

Memorial accused Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering her killing because of her strong criticism of his government. President Dmitry Medvedev promised a thorough investigation but dismissed suggestions Kadyrov was involved.

Kadyrov himself has also denied involvement but his remarks in an interview last weekend with Radio Free Europe that Estemirova “never had any honor or sense of shame” and “would say stupid things” caused further controversy.

The government blames Islamic militants for a rise in attacks on security forces and local officials in Chechnya and neighboring North Caucasus provinces in the past few months.

Kadyrov, installed as a local strongman by the Kremlin to calm unrest in Chechnya, has found himself repeatedly accused of ordering extra-judicial killings after a growing number of his critics and political opponents have been murdered.

Exiles have been gunned down abroad while others have been shot on the streets of Moscow or killed in their native Chechnya. Virtually none of the murders have been solved.

Editing by Jon Boyle