The town of Semender—a suburb of Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala—has been notorious to those who follow the situation in the mountainous North Caucasus republic. In March, clashes between government forces and a group of militants who were holed up in a government official’s home lasted several days. The law enforcement agencies at that time reported that they had killed a Dagestani militant leader, Ibragim Gajidadaev (https://www.vestikavkaza.ru/news/V-dagestanskom-Semendere-idet-boy.html). However, since then, it has been unclear whether Gajidadaev was in fact killed or not. In any case, both sides suffered losses in the battle. In June, there was another round of clashes between government forces and the rebels in the Dagestani village, which also lasted for several days and saw losses on both sides (https://vdagestan.su/osadnyiy-semender-mudzhahidy-prodolzhayut-boiy-i-zakladyvayut-k-marionetkam-bomby).
A rational explanation for the volatility of this town is based on the fact that it was settled by various migrants from the mountainous parts of Dagestan and is not populated by any one particular ethnic group. The migrants settled in their own communities, so each street was populated by former residents of a given mountain village. Thus solidarity within the groups is quite high.
The latest incident in Semender took place on November 16, on Said-Efandi Street. According to the official account, the special operation started around a home owned by 26-year-old Rinat Suleimanovich Mamaev, who was there along with his wife, baby daughter and four militants. The situation spun out of the authorities’ control when Mamaev’s wife Mariam telephoned a friend and asked for assistance. At around 1 a.m., Mariam reported that law enforcement personnel had surrounded the house without any warning and were shooting inside. She said all of the house’s windows had been smashed and smoke bombs were hurled inside, which made it difficult for her child to breathe. Before cellular phone coverage in the area was cut off, Mariam managed to tell rights activists that she asked the police to let her and her child go. Mariam’s husband was wounded and bleeding, and she asked that doctors be allowed to see him.
By 2 a.m., Gulnara Rustamova of the Pravozashchita civil rights group had arrived at the site of the special operation. According to Rustamova, the security forces shot into the house but no shots were fired from the dwelling. Mariam’s husband soon died. Rustamova remained at the site of the special operation until 10 a.m., when the police allowed Mariam and her child to leave the house (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001753520905).
In the morning, it emerged that the special operation had been staged in order to announce the name of Dmitry Sokolov, the suspected ethnic Russian organizer of the terrorist attack in Volgograd that was allegedly carried out by Naida Asiyalova, the Dagestani female suicide bomber who was also Sokolov’s partner (https://www.interfax.ru/russia/txt.asp?id=336020). Sokolov lived in Moscow until he converted to Islam and, to boost his new identity, assumed the name Abdul Jabar and joined the underground militant resistance group in the North Caucasus (https://www.mk.ru/social/article/2013/11/16/946343-rodstvenniki-dmitriya-sokolova-do-sih-por-ne-mogut-poverit-chto-on-stal-boevikom.html). While in Moscow, Sokolov befriended his future wife, but it is unclear who influenced whom more, since it is known that Asiyalova had not been particularly pious prior to meeting Sokolov (https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1144601&tid=104994).
The fact that the special operation in Semender started in the middle of the night shows that the security services knew the exact location of the militant suspected in organizing the Volgograd attack (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/kriminal/nak_pyat_boevikov_v_tom_chisle_sokolov_likvidirovany_v_khode_spetsoperatsii_v_dagestane/). Otherwise, his true identity would have been known only after DNA analysis. After allowing Mariam and her child to leave the house, the security forces negotiated with Sokolov through his mother, trying to convince him to surrender. The security services probably wanted to obtain a confession from the suspected terrorist and not simply his corpse (https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1155790&tid=104994).
Whether or not Sokolov was the actual organizer of the Volgograd attack remains unclear. The telephone call from his mother arranged by the authorities appears to have been aimed specifically at allowing the security services to claim that he had confessed to his crime. This aspect of the operation as described in the Russian media is highly suspicious. For example, why would the militant, instead of saying goodbye to his mother in the last minutes of his life, start to tell her that he himself had “made the bomb and sent his wife on a terrorist attack” and that he had no remorse about the slain civilians in Volgograd? (https://kavkazpress.ru/archives/33173). This self-confession of a militant in the last minutes of his life appears to defy reason. While these explanations work out well for the Russian security services, Gulnara Rustamova’s eyewitness account of the special operation targeting the house in Semender suggests it cannot be ruled out that the security services orchestrated the killing of Dmitry Sokolov in order to show the outside world that the case of the Volgograd bombing had been solved. Moreover, it has another unannounced aim of reassuring Western governments closely watching the security situation in the North Caucasus that looming security threats to the 2014 Sochi Olympics had been neutralized.
In any case, that special operation demonstrated that the authorities do not really want to negotiate the surrender of insurgents: indeed, the authorities fear the militants and thus have no interest in taking them alive.
The special operation in the town of Semender ended in the deaths of five suspected militants and the security services consider this as their success. In reality, the security services lost once again, and can expect a similar outcome in future special operations in Dagestan.