Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 6

The most serious incident in Dagestan last week was the murder of Magomed Omarov, the republic’s deputy Interior Minister, and three of his bodyguards on February 2. Omarov and his guards died when the two cars in which they were driving came under fire in downtown Makhachkala. Lenta.ru on February 4 cited an “official version” of the attack, according to which the convoy was fired on from two cars that pulled up alongside it. The website, however, also cited accounts by eyewitnesses who claimed that the convoy was fired on first by three shooters who had been deployed at several points around an intersection and then by the driver of a passing car. Two cars which the shooters used to escape were later found: three automatic rifles and two grenades were found in one of them, which had been set on fire. A fourth member of Omarov’s bodyguard detail was seriously wounded in the attack.

The car in which Omarov was driving during the attack was an ordinary, non-armored Niva. Russky kurier reported on February 4 that investigators – including a special team dispatched from Moscow by Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, led by Gen.-Lieutenant Vladimir Gordienko, acting head of the ministry’s criminal investigation department – were seeking to find out why on the very day of the attack the armor-plated BMW in which Omarov usually drove had been sent for repairs. However, in a piece for Mn.ru, the website of Moskovskie novosti, on February 4, Sanobar Shermatova wrote that while Omarov’s assassination was immediately followed by rumors concerning his reportedly “strained” relations with his immediate boss, Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, observers subsequently reached the conclusion that the murder was too “audacious” for a contract killing resulting from an internal power struggle. Shermatova quoted an unnamed Dagestani politician as saying: “Do you know how much money you would have to pay for killers to fire on the automobile of a deputy minister in the center of the city during a busy time of the day?!”

According to the Moskovskie novosti correspondent, the main theory for the assassination is that the attack was carried out by “Wahabbis” – that is, Islamic militants – particularly since Omarov was in charge of the operation in Makhachkala that killed Rasul Makasharipov’s fighters as well as the almost simultaneous raid that killed another group of militants in the city of Kaspiisk. Shermatova noted that Omarov was also involved in hunting down Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who was killed in a shootout with Dagestani borderguards in the mountains of Dagestan in February 2004, and that Shamil Basaev and Doku Umarov had vowed to avenge Gelaev. No one, however, has claimed responsibility for the assassination.