BRATSKOYE, Russia (Reuters) - The Russian man beheaded as a spy by the Islamic State group was a moderate Muslim who had rejected attempts by militants to recruit him to fight in the Middle East, his adoptive family told Reuters on Friday.
A video posted online by Islamic State this week showed a man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling as he declared he was a spy for Russian intelligence, and then being beheaded by a man in camouflage fatigues wielding a large knife.
Using details in the video and information from local sources in Russia’s Chechnya region, where the beheaded man grew up, Reuters was able to trace his adoptive mother and other members of his adoptive family in the village of Bratskoye.
Relatives and Chechen officials named the man as Magomed Khasiev, and said he was born into an ethnic Russia family but had later been adopted into the family in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.
“Do you know what he said when he said good-bye for the last time?,” his adoptive mother, Markha Khasieva, told Reuters in an interview at the family home.
“‘Whatever bad things you hear about me, I will never dishonor you. Never believe rumors. You should know one thing: in the end you will learn the truth anyway.’ That’s how he said good-bye to us,” she recalled.
The pro-Moscow leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, confirmed the man had been beheaded and said whoever was responsible for his death would be killed. The video of his beheading was purported to have been recorded in Syria.
Markha Khasieva recounted how, before they lost contact, her adoptive son described how he had been approached by a childhood friend who had spent time in the Middle East with Islamist militants and was trying to recruit local Muslims.
She recalled her adoptive son telling her about the recruiter’s reaction when he refused to join the militants: “‘He cursed me and said I wasn’t a real man.’”
Another relative, Khasieva’s nephew, said Magomed had stood his ground. “Whatever his friend told him, he didn’t go. He firmly refused, and stuck to his position,” said the nephew, who gave his name as Ruslan.
His relatives said they knew nothing about him working for Russian intelligence. They said the last they heard from him was when he sent them a picture of himself, which they believed was taken in Turkey.
Family members told Reuters that Khasiev’s home life with his biological family was dysfunctional and he ended up in a children’s home in Chechnya.
Markha Khasieva, who is in her 50s and works as a paediatrician in a local hospital, said that she had adopted him when he was 12 years old.
She said the boy starting practicing Islam, took on the family name and spoke Chechen, though with a Russian accent. Frictions between other members of the adoptive family meant he had to return to a children’s home after three years, she said.
But she said they stayed in close touch over the next several years, and that, after he became an adult, she signed over an apartment she owned to Khasiyev so that he would have somewhere to live.
Khasieva, who wore an Islamic headscarf, said he had been studying at a college in a nearby city but that contact was lost about 14 months ago.
“No one has ever told me he was in Syria. I didn’t believe in it,” she told Reuters.
Relatives said Magomed was an observant Muslim who prayed, was well versed in Muslim religious rituals, went to the mosque, and once backed out of an arrangement to marry a girl because he did not think she was modest enough.
But his adoptive mother said: “I didn’t see a pathological tendency towards Islam in him. He was a regular person like us, like regular people, the way people are supposed to be.”
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton