Austrian trial of Chechens on murder charges begins

Image caption, The accused face sentences of up to 20 years if found guilty

The trial has begun in Austria of three Chechens accused of being linked to the killing of a former bodyguard of the Chechen president.

The three men are charged with complicity to murder Umar Israilov in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Austrian police believe the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, ordered Mr Israilov's abduction and that he was killed when it went wrong.

But Mr Kadyrov has strongly denied involvement.

Security was tight at the start of the trial, which is being attended by Mr Israilov's widow and father.

The three men - Otto Kaltenbrunner, Suleiman (also known as Muslim) Dadayev and Turpal-Ali Yesherkayev - are also charged with attempting to hand over Mr Israilov to a foreign power.

Torture allegations

If found guilty, they face sentences of between 10 and 20 years.

According to the charges, the suspects were initially meant to bring Mr Israilov back to Chechnya. When he attempted to flee, he was shot dead in the street.

A fourth man who allegedly fatally shot Mr Israilov is believed to have escaped to Russia.

Prosecutors say they do not have enough evidence to charge the Chechen leader, but say the evidence does show that the three accused had close ties to him. Mr Kadyrov has said such comments are an attempt to smear him.

Mr Israilov, who was 27, was a former member of Mr Kadyrov's security forces who had defected and sought asylum in Austria. He said he had witnessed Mr Kadyrov personally taking part in torture sessions.

Rights groups have long accused Mr Kadyrov of a campaign to eliminate opponents at home and abroad.

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