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The Big Chechen Horse Trade: Murder in Dubai Made Easy

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In February, I remember being impressed with how Dubai police handled the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas commander who got whacked by Mossad. Although their headgear would probably get snagged on a fence if it ever came down to an alley chase, the local cops took less than a month to identify the agents who had suffocated this guys in his hotel room. They didn't catch any of them, but the investigation looked surprisingly professional.

Up until yesterday, the murder of Chechen warlord Sulim Yamadayev, who was shot in a Dubai parking lot in 2009, was also handled pretty well. They caught two of the hit men immediately, including the horse groomer of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, and within a month of the murder, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim (the same guy who handled the Mossad case) even ordered an international arrest warrant for Kadyrov's cousin, Adam Delimkhanov, who is a member of the Russian parliament. Politically, this was a dangerous move. An Interpol warrant for a sitting Duma member is not something the Kremlin likes to see, and it suddenly became a lot harder for the Russians to deny that their man in Chechnya had ordered the assassination personally. But the Dubai authorities didn't seem to give a shit. If they couldn't arrest Kadyrov's cousin, they would at least try, and the two Kadyrov goons they had in custody were soon sentenced to life in prison. Again, I was impressed. Dubai had shown that it was not a place to settle anybody's scores.

But on Wednesday, Dec. 22, the whole case fell apart. A decision of the court of appeals reduced the sentences of both hit men from life in prison to all of 6 months, meaning they'll be out in time for Ramadan. By complete and utter coincidence, this verdict came one month after Kadyrov paid a visit to the Emirates, where he met with half of the royal family.

The message he got from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was the following: "I want you to consider the Emirates your second home, and to travel here as if it were a homecoming." Meaning, apparently, do here as you damn well please. Exactly five weeks later, Kadyrov's boys were off the hook.

Now, I'm not sure what could possibly make the crown prince sink to something like that, but I don't think its the trade between Chechnya and the Emirates. The business class section of Emirates Airlines is probably worth more than Chechnya's entire economy, and the prince's father is alone worth upwards of $10 billion. I also doubt this came down to Arab hospitality. If a guy smears somebody's brains on your property, he doesn't usually receive a foot massage when he comes to visit. (Pulp Fiction comes to mind: "Did you notice a sign on the front of my house that said 'Dead Nigger Storage'?!")

Really all of this boils down to two things with a long common history: horses and empires. When Kadyrov was in the Emirates last month, he informed the royal family that that Islamic school being built in his capital will be named after the prince's father, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan. Chechen students will labor there to memorize the Koran, learning, ostensibly, to revere Islam as the royal family understands it. This is of no small value to the Arabs. The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a whole bunch of benighted Muslim civilizations just begging to be brought into the fold, and ever since, they've been competing to insert their particular brand of Islam into the Soviet spiritual void.

Turkmenistan is my favorite example. The Saudis, the Turks and by some accounts the Iranians have spent billions on mosques there, and although the Turkmen dictators are ignorant as can be of their nominal religion (the late Turkmenbashi drank like a goddamn fish, and plastered quotes from his own book instead of the Koran inside his Muslim temples) they have nevertheless been happy to accept the money that comes with playing the Arabs against each other for influence. Chechnya is another fine example.

And then there's Kadyrov's obsession with horses, which by no accident he shares with most of the Arab elite. This is a networking tool, and he uses it to fine effect. During his trip to the Emirates last month, he watched a race organized especially for him by Sheikh Mansur, and received as gifts from the crown prince a pair of pure-bred Arab horses. In the West this would be about the same as a round of golf in the Hamptons, where if the right people are playing, no legal matter is too great to resolve after the ninth or tenth hole. What's a little murder among friends, after all.

So as it happens, Yamadayev's death was little more than a legal hitch in Chechen-Arab relations, which the Sheikhs value so highly they can't even keep two of Kadyrov's getaway men in jail for the sake of principle. Next time you travel to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, make sure to look out for a sign in the airport that says 'Dead Chechen Storage.' They should have posted it yesterday.

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