A Berlin bicycle assassination suggests Russia is recruiting killers
- An investigation into a killing in Berlin in which the assassin used a bicycle has led German prosecutors to believe they are dealing with an organised-crime hitman from Russia.
- The suspect is thought to have used a bicycle in a previous killing.
- It looks as if Russian security services recruited him to carry out the killings they need done in Europe.
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Germany expelled two Russian diplomats on Tuesday after the federal prosecutor for crimes against the German state took control of an investigation into the killing of a Chechen refugee in a Berlin park by a bicycle-pedaling assassin holding a fake Russian passport.
The move transfers the case from the usual German regional criminal court to a special court designed to investigate spying and other attacks on the German state. It came as open-source investigations by journalists and researchers linked the suspect to a 2013 murder in Russia that also involved a bicycle.
The German government said the decision to transfer the case from a criminal court to a security court came after months of Russian refusals to help investigate the background of the suspect, Vadim Sokolov. He was apprehended in August shortly after the shooting of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia. The killing took place in broad daylight in a crowded Berlin park. Authorities said Sokolov fled the scene on a bicycle and was attempting to dispose of the murder weapon in a canal when he was arrested.
Suspect in bicycle killing used a false identity
The suspect in the killing traveled from Russia to Berlin through France on travel documents that appeared to be issued by Russian authorities. But multiple experts who examined the documents said they appeared to be fraudulent in that Sokolov does not appear to exist in other Russian databases, leading researchers to conclude the passport was issued under a false name.
But researchers and journalists working with the open-source investigations team at Bellingcat and the German news magazine Der Spiegel say Sokolov was most likely Vadim Nikolaevich Krasikov. He was the subject of an international manhunt in 2014 led by Russian authorities after the killing of a Russian businessman in which the assassin also used a bicycle and was caught on CCTV. This video shows part of the attack and may be upsetting to some viewers:
In their 2014 request for help apprehending Krasikov, Russian officials included a photograph of the suspect, which closely matched the German mugshot of Sokolov.
Russian databases examined by researchers in 2014 found multiple examples of Krasikov traveling by air inside Russia under his own name, including trips to Crimea and Central Asian nations that once belonged to the Soviet Union. But by 2015, the Russian government had withdrawn its Interpol warrant for Krasikov, who then proceeded to disappear from internal Russian databases.
Krasikov disappears ...
At this stage, all mentions of Krasikov except for a single entry in the main passport database had disappeared: It remains gone with no current records of driving licenses as well as no mention in Russian government records related to healthcare and pensions.
The "Sokolov" identity, however, came into being in late 2015 and for the first time - at age 45 - applied for an international passport and other internal Russian government documents. In July, he was issued an official Russian tax ID number and days later applied for the European Union visa thought to have led him to the Berlin park a month later.
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