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Young Leader of ‘mountain Jews’ Killed in Shooting in Russian Capital

March 8, 2004
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The motive behind the killing of a prominent Jewish leader from the Caucasus Mountains is unknown.

Zaur Gilalov, a successful businessman and the head of the World Congress of Mountain Jews, was shot to death here last Friday. He was killed in broad daylight by two unidentified gunmen not far from his office.

Gilalov was to get married next month, and he was killed while exiting a tailor shop where he was ordering his wedding attire.

Jewish leaders and Gilalov’s friends say anti-Semitism was not the motive of the crime.

“I don’t believe this had anything to do with his religion,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, Moscow’s chief rabbi and a friend of the slain Jewish leader, told JTA. “But we don’t have a clue as to the motives of this crime.”

Dmitriy Zagranichniy, the managing director of the World Congress of Mountain Jews agreed.

“No one knows why, who,” Zagranichniy said. “He hardly had any enemies at all.”

Many believe that Gilalov, 29, was a victim of a contract murder related to his business operations. But a police official in charge of the investigation told a news agency that Gilalov could have been killed by members of a rival clan, who may have declared a vendetta on Gilalov’s family.

Seven years ago, Gilalov’s father was shot to death in Moscow. That case remains unsolved.

Gilalov and his younger brother, Akif, were founders of the Zar Group, a company that develops retail malls in the Russian capital.

Jewish leaders, members of the business community and ordinary Jews were among the hundreds who attended Sunday’s funeral for Gilalov at the Jewish section of Moscow’s Vostryakovskoe Cemetery.

Most were members of the “Mountain Jewish” community, which originated in the eastern Caucasus. Like many members of this group, Gilalov was a native of Azerbaijan, and many of the attendees at the funeral flew from the former Soviet republic to attend the ceremony.

“This is a great tragedy for the Jews of Caucasus and for the whole Jewish community,” Goldschmidt said.

Gilalov who was only 29, had emerged in recent years as one of the most active donors in the Jewish community both in Russia and Azerbaijan.

“He was one of the most generous donors, and he gave so much of his time to community development,” Goldschmidt said.

Gilalov was responsible for the construction of two synagogues serving Caucasus Jews, one in Moscow and one in the Israeli town of Tirat Carmel, near Haifa.

Last year, he helped to set up the World Congress of Mountain Jews, an umbrella organization representing an estimated 250,000 Jews living in Russia, Azerbaijan, Israel and North America.

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