Four Russians have been thrown behind bars in Turkey for allegedly plotting attacks on Chechen dissidents and engaging in “political and military espionage” in the country.
The men were first arrested on Oct. 8 in the popular resort city of Antalya, and an Istanbul court on Thursday ruled to keep them locked up, the state-run Anadolu news agency reports.
In addition to the four Russians, a Ukrainian and Uzbek national were also said to be involved in the assassination plot. It was not immediately clear how many targets they had allegedly set their sights on, but investigators say they were closing in on several Chechen dissidents living on Turkish soil and were in the process of obtaining weapons, per Anadolu.
They face up to 20 years in prison on the charge of espionage. Separately, Turkish authorities also reportedly arrested 15 people linked to Israel’s Mossad who were said to be tracking Palestinians and Syrian students in the country.
The Kremlin on Thursday said it was “not aware” of any citizens taken into custody in Turkey on espionage charges. “Honestly speaking, I do not know,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in comments to Izvestia.
“If Russian citizens were detained, then the Turkish side should have informed our diplomatic mission, the consular service,” he said.
Several Chechens critical of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime have been killed in Turkey in recent years, often gunned down in broad daylight in brazen attacks that appear to send a message to any other would-be critics.
Ruslan Israpilov emigrated to Turkey only to be shot dead at the front door of his apartment in Ilimtepe in 2016. Just two weeks before his murder, he’d spoken to a friend about two men who appeared to be Russian doing surveillance near his home and “preparing something” against him, the BBC reported.
Less than a year before his killing, Chechen commander Abdulvahid Edelgiriev was fatally shot and stabbed by a group of men later determined by investigators to be Russian assassins.
Israpilov and Edelgiriev were just two of more than a dozen men from former Soviet republics to be killed on Turkish soil in recent years.
The assassinations have also extended well beyond Turkish borders. Zelimkhan Khangoshvil, a former Chechen insurgent and asylum-seeker from Georgia, was gunned down in a shocking daytime attack in a Berlin park in 2019. German prosecutors have tied the assassination directly to the Russian government.