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Journalists identify two Russian mercenaries involved in brutal Syrian murder, including one who likely served with Wagner PMC leader
In 2017, a deserter from Bashar al-Assad’s army was murdered. His body was then dismembered and burned. In November 2019, Novaya Gazeta revealed that mercenaries from the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) had taken part in the killing. The newspaper also published a video of the alleged Russian mercenaries cutting off the Syrian’s head. Russian media sources subsequently identified three of the fighters; now, the St. Petersburg-based outlet Fontanka has identified two more who may have been involved and discovered the real last name of one of the hired soldiers.
In 2017, a video was posted online that showed four people beating another with a sledgehammer. In November 2019, Novaya Gazeta published new video footage of the same killing. The TV station Current Time reported that the victim was a man born in Syria in 1986. His name was Mohammed Taha Ismail al-Abdulla, he was also known as Hammadi Taha al-Buta, and he had deserted his post in the Syrian army
The video can be viewed on Novaya Gazeta’s YouTube channel. Please note that it contains extreme, graphic violence.
Novaya Gazeta indicated that one of the murderers was Stanislav D., a former police officer from Stavropol whose full name was not revealed. Current Time reported that another was Vladislav A., a dual citizen of Russia and Moldova born in 1988. He died in Syria in February 2018.
Fontanka also found that a 39-year-old veteran from Bryansk named Ruslan Ch. had taken part in the killing; he now works in Bryansk teaching children about patriotism. Ruslan denied to Fontanka that he had been in Syria in 2017.
According to Fontanka, six people in total were involved in the killing.
One of the soldiers whose identity Fontanka discovered is 34-year-old Pskov resident Vladimir B., who had previously undergone military service in Dagestan. The outlet indicated that he attempted to sever the victim’s neck vertebrae using an entrenching shovel. In the video, he is referred to as “Vova,” a nickname for Vladimir.
From 2012 to 2014, Vladimir served in a special ops brigade. In 2013, that brigade was also home to Dmitry Utkin, whose call sign is “Wagner.” Utkin is the leader of the Wagner PMC. Vladimir appears to have joined the ranks of that company in the first half of 2015, and taken the call sign “Saiga.” Fontanka asserted that Vladimir was among the passengers registered for a flight from Rostov to Damascus in January 2017. In June of that year, he returned from Syria. Fontanka reached out to Vladimir, who denied that he was in Syria or had worked with the Wagner PMC. He also said he did not know Dmitry Utkin: “I didn’t catch him in the second brigade at special ops.”
Another alleged participant in the killing is 28-year-old Dzhakhongir M., a naturalized Russian citizen born in Tajikistan. Fontanka reported that he was the one who dismembered the body of the murdered Syrian and then used a flammable fluid to burn his remains. Dzhakhongir had previously served in a paratrooper brigade. He visited Syria three times in the course of 2017 and 2018. Within the Wagner PMC, his call name was “Pamir.” The cell phone journalists attempted to contact to reach him had been turned off.
According to Fontanka, a man named Vladislav Apostol may also have been involved in the incident in Syria. Apostol had previously taken part in the Donbas war in eastern Ukraine. Mikhail Kuznetsov, a volunteer with the InformNapalm project, had previously mentioned Apostol’s military activities on Facebook. In the video, Apostol can be seen beating the victim with a sledgehammer, and he is addressed using the call sign “Volk,” or “Wolf.”
Vladislav Apostol is a Russian citizen born in Moldova. He was killed in Syria on the night of February 7, 2018, during a U.S. airstrike, as Current Time had previously reported. Apostol’s mother confirmed on social media that her son had been a “soldier of fortune” and that he had died in Syria.
Translation by Hilah Kohen
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