Three months after the head of Azerbaijan's air forces was gunned down in broad daylight in central Baku, investigators are still on the hunt for suspects, and remain unsure of the motive for the crime.
Lt. Gen. Rail Rzayev, 64, was shot and killed by a sniper's bullet while sitting in his car outside of his apartment building in downtown Baku. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
On May 6, President Ilham Aliyev appointed Army Maj. Gen. Altay Mehdiyev as Rzayev's replacement. Mehdiyev formerly served as an army chief-of-staff in Nakhchivan, the Aliyev family's home region. But with Mehdiyev's appointment came no fresh information about the investigation into Rzayev's death. The last update was released in February - a slow rate of disclosure even for Azerbaijan's less-than-forthcoming law enforcement officials.
Immediately following the assassination, President Aliyev vowed that the case would be solved. But General Prosecutor's Office spokesperson Eldar Sultanov told EurasiaNet recently that investigators were continuing to work on several scenarios. "So far, it is all the information I can provide to the public concerning this murder," Sultanov added.
Two opposition newspapers have come up with their own version of events. The Baku-based Yeni Musavat and Bizim Yol papers reported in April that two people - Lt. Gen. Rzayev's aide-de-camp, Aydin Rafiyev, and Rafiyev's son, Anar Rafiyev - have been arrested in connection with the general's murder.
The General Prosecutor's Office's Sultanov refused to confirm or to deny these reports.
The chairman of the Committee against Torture, a non-governmental organization, confirmed this information to EurasiaNet, however. Elchin Behbutov, the organization's chairman, said that he had visited both the Rafiyevs in a pre-trial detention center run by the Ministry of National Security. According to Behbutov, the two men reject the charges against them, but are represented by attorneys and do not complain about their prison conditions. Behbutov declined to specify what charges have been brought against the pair.
A source from the Military Prosecutor's Office, which is involved in the Rzayev investigation, told EurasiaNet, however, that the two men are being held on charges of theft, rather than murder. "According to the investigation, right after the general's murder these people tried to steal valuables from his office and money from his safe," said the source, who requested anonymity.
The April 30 shooting spree at Baku's State Oil Academy has distracted investigators and public attention alike from Rzayev's murder, but even observers with connections to Azerbaijan's security structures confess themselves to be at a dead-end for leads. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
One former deputy National Security minister believes that investigators may never find Rzayev's killer. "It is a contract murder, but the percentage of such cases that are solved is very low," said Sulhaddin Akper, now a member of Azerbaijan's opposition movement.
A former defense ministry official agrees. Even current ministry officials can offer no scenarios about the reasons for Rzayev's death, said Haji Asadov, now a military analyst. "It is still very difficult to say who killed Gen. Rzayev and why," Asadov said.
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Institute-Azerbaijan.