Germany investigates Russian ties to assassination of Georgian exile in Berlin

Forensic experts at the scene of the assassination in a Berlin park on 25 August

Forensic experts at the scene of the assassination in a Berlin park on 25 August

The German government has so far refused to point the finger at Russia, despite the fact that the 49-year-old hitman holds a Russian passport. However, it could soon be forced to make a statement after the German attorney general's office this week took over the investigation, as it suspects that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the murder.

In late August, 40-year-old Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot in an "execution-style" killing at Berlin's Kleiner Tiergarten park.

The case threatens to inflame tensions between Russian Federation and Germany, and prosecutors' spokesman Markus Schmitt told The Associated Press his office chose to take over the investigation from Berlin state prosecutors after the political nature of the case that has come to light.

Prosecutors said there were sufficient leads to indicate that the killing was ordered either by the Russian state or by Chechen authorities.

Russia's foreign ministry responded angrily.

Russia, which denies any involvement, responded swiftly, saying it would retaliate for what it called Germany's "unfriendly" move. The Kremlin has categorically denied its involvement, but the Russian government's unwillingness to illuminate the case has raised suspicions.

In their statement, German prosecutors said he was "classified as a terrorist by Russian authorities and persecuted as such". He had previously survived multiple assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing to Germany.

The case threatens to worsen already heightened tensions between Berlin and Moscow.

Berlin's decision marks an escalation in already heightened tensions between Russia and Germany and other Western countries following the poisoning a year ago of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter on British soil.

That attack was also blamed on Moscow - leading to the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats and triggered a diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and Russia.

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