Umar Israilov saw the men who had come to kill him.
They confronted him in the neighborhood where he lived in hiding in Vienna. He must have sensed their intentions, because he ran.
For more than two years, Israilov, a Chechen in exile, had formally accused Russia's government of allowing a macabre pattern of crimes in Chechnya. Even by the dark norms of violence in the Caucasus, his accusations were extraordinary.
A rebel fighter turned bodyguard of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen president, Israilov had access to the inner ring of Chechen power. Kadyrov's career has been sponsored by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, who as president lifted him from obscurity with unwavering Kremlin support.
In written legal complaints, Israilov described many brutal acts by Kadyrov and his subordinates, including executions of illegally detained men. One executed man, Israilov said, had been beaten with a shovel handle by Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov, now a member of the Russian Parliament. Another prisoner, the defector said, was sodomized by a prominent police officer and at Kadyrov's order put to death.
Israilov said he and others had been tortured by Kadyrov, who amused himself by personally giving prisoners electric shocks or firing pistols at their feet.
Kadyrov and Delimkhanov refused to be interviewed for this article. A spokesman for Kadyrov released a statement decrying "a large-scale and purposeful campaign" to discredit the Chechen president and government.
Since 1994, Russia's wars against nationalist and Islamic separatists in Chechnya have been fought with sinister conduct by all sides.
Human rights organizations and independent journalists have documented patterns of abduction, detention, disappearances, collective punishment, extrajudicial executions and the systematic use of torture by the Russian and Chechen authorities, including Kadyrov. The separatists have unapologetically employed terrorist attacks, including on children.
But the character of Israilov's allegations was different. He had been an insider. And with his father, Sharpuddi - who says that Kadyrov illegally detained him for more than 10 months, and that his captors tortured victims with a torch - he filed complaints to Russian prosecutors and the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 and 2007.
The Israilovs' filings, never made public, appear to have been the first formal allegations based on actions by Kadyrov, who has been celebrated by the Kremlin as a national hero for marginalizing the insurgency in the Republic of Chechnya since 2004.
Taken together, their accounts offer a window into Russia's counterinsurgency campaign and the climb to power of Chechens in Kremlin favor as the separatists' influence waned. They also detail efforts by the Chechen government to suppress knowledge of its policies through official lies, obstruction and witness intimidation.
Umar Israilov, 27, was a complicated figure: a participant in a particularly ugly war, motivated at least in part by revenge. The New York Times spent several months evaluating the allegations by him and his father, examining the charges against the wealth of materials on Chechen human rights abuses, and interviewing supporting witnesses and independent investigators who had examined the Israilov case.
In addition, the newspaper obtained corroborating statements from another government insider and from another victim, who both fled Chechnya but remain in hiding. They said they saw Umar Israilov being tortured. Almost all of the people who assisted asked for anonymity, saying they feared reprisal.
The threats were palpable. Several of Kadyrov's critics have been silenced by violence, including rivals, journalists and former detainees and their relatives.
Moreover, Israilov told the Austrian authorities last year that an agent sent from Russia by Kadyrov had threatened him. Under questioning by counterterrorism officials, the agent told of his mission to retrieve the whistle-blower, according to a written summary of his interrogation, and said Kadyrov kept a list of 300 enemies to be killed.
On Jan. 9, after consulting with one of Umar Israilov's legal advocates, The Times notified Putin's office that it sought interviews with Russian officials about these allegations. Israilov was prepared to publicize his story.
Dmitri Peskov, Putin's spokesman, declined to comment in detail, saying, "It's not wise to comment on any rumors."
On Jan. 13, Israilov left his apartment, where he had been watching his three young children while his pregnant wife was away, to buy yogurt at a nearby market. Outside, he was confronted by at least two men.
They argued, and one of the men tried to pistol-whip Israilov, according to Gerhard Jarosch, a spokesman for Austria's prosecutor. Israilov bolted. He still had received no protection. In broad daylight on a Vienna street, he ran for his life alone.
One of his pursuers opened fire. Israilov fell, shot in an arm, a leg and the abdomen, according to Jarosch. A short while later, he was dead.
In interviews, Israilov and his father said that though they been granted the possibility of peaceful lives, they wanted to obtain justice and hold the Russian and Chechen governments accountable. They filed separate complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in late 2006.
The court, established by the European Convention on Human Rights, has become a legal venue of last resort for citizens of countries that have signed the convention, which include Russia. Chechnya, as a republic of Russia, is covered by its conventions and laws.
To hide their locations, the Israilovs provided only a post office box in a third Western country. Unknown to them, the court sought more information but could not find them. The case was dropped and expunged from files, although the Israilov family is resubmitting documents to have it reinstated.
In August, the Chechen who said he had been sent to Austria by Kadyrov found Umar Israilov and asked him to withdraw his complaints or risk being killed and having his family killed. Israilov refused, he and his lawyer said. The Austrian government released the man and did not protect Israilov.
Since Israilov's killing, Austrian police and counterterrorism officers have arrested eight Chechens in the case. All had received or applied for asylum, the prosecutor's spokesman said. The suspects were still being questioned and the evidence was being reviewed, he said, and their motives were not clear.
Umar Israilov, for his part, had all but predicted his fate.
"A guy from our village works as a commander in the kadyrovtsie," or Kadyrov's troops, he said at the end of his final interview with a reporter last year. "He told it to my cousin: that I should be very, very careful, because Ramzan promises a bounty for me."
C.J. Chivers reported from Vienna; London; Moscow; Oslo; and Grozny, Gudermes and Mesker-Yurt, Chechnya. Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Moscow.