Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 8

Newsru.com reported on February 22 that contradictory information was coming out of Khasavyurt, Dagestan, about a special operation that security officials said had been carried out that day against a group of armed militants. The deputy head of Khasavyurt’s administration, Arsanali Murtuzaliev, told Interfax that a group of gunmen had been blockaded in an apartment in a five-story building on the city’s Groznensky Street. The militants refused demands by officials to lay down their arms and “offered armed resistance to members of the law-enforcement organs,” the news agency reported. Security forces stormed the building, killing two gunmen and capturing one. RIA Novosti, however, quoted a local police official as saying that one militant was killed and two were captured. Later on February 22 came word that one of three OMON special police who were wounded during the operation had died.

Meanwhile, a Khasavyurt law-enforcement source told Interfax that the wife of one of the militants had been arrested. Later on February 22, Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov told RIA Novosti that one of the militants killed in the operation was Radzh Aliev, an “emir” of “religious extremist-terrorists in Gudermes” and Shamil Basaev’s “most trusted representative.” Magomedtagirov said that while the situation along the Dagestani-Chechen border was “normal,” there could be “attempts to destabilize the situation with various provocations and force actions from the opposing side, but we will stop them and destroy the militants, like today.”

Earlier on February 22, the head of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s press service, Colonel Abdulmanap Musaev, told Interfax that “Radzhab Aliev” was “the emir of the so-called Gudermes Jamaat,” wanted for murder and terrorism and suspected of involvement in an attack on the Gudermes police headquarters. Musaev claimed that the militants in Khasavyurt were “ethnic Chechens” who were planning terrorist acts around Dagestan. Itar-Tass reported that Dagestani law-enforcement officials did not rule out that the appearance of Chechen fighters in Khasavyurt was connected to terrorist attacks planned to coincide with the 61st anniversary of the 1944 deportation of the Chechens and Ingush.

The Khasavyurt shoot-out coincided with the latest in a series of attacks on Dagestani officials. Radio Liberty’s Russian Service reported on February 22 that a federal judge, Arzlum Magomedov, was shot and wounded in the stomach by an unknown attacker using a pistol as he was leaving his house in Dagestan’s Botlikhsky district. He was taken to the hospital.

On February 16, a car bomb went off in the center of the town of Kizlyar as an armored Mercedes carrying Amuchi Amutinov, head of the Dagestani branch of the Federal Pension Fund, and Akhmednabi Magdigazhiev, secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council, passed by. Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on February 18 that the blast killed two passers-by and a bodyguard traveling in a second car, and wounded four other people, including bodyguards, traveling in the second car. Amutinov and Magdigazhiev were unhurt thanks to the Mercedes’ armor plating.

It is by no means clear that the recent attacks on Dagestani officials, including the February 2 assassination of Magomed Omarov, the republic’s deputy Interior Minister, were carried out by Islamic militants. Indeed, many observers see such attacks as part of an ongoing war between criminal groups over spheres of influence. Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted Vasily Kolesnikov, the Southern Federal District’s chief federal inspector for Dagestan, as saying: “It is clear that a war is now going on in Dagestan which was unleashed by the criminal world, which is trying to destabilize the situation in the republic.”

Likewise, Vyacheslav Izmailov, military correspondent for Novaya gazeta, wrote in the bi-weekly’s February 21 edition: “Intimidation, blackmail, the physical elimination of competitors – these are the means used by local criminals who are longing to take power in the republic.” According to Izmailov, 30 law-enforcement officers have been killed in Dagestan over the last three years – the majority of them high-level Interior Ministry officers, but also including officers of the republican Federal Security Service (FSB) branch and prosecutors.

Meanwhile, President Putin envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak, described the situation in Dagestan as “difficult,” RIA Novosti reported on February 17. “The activization of crime, the activization of terrorists is going on in the republic,” he said, adding: “We will strengthen work to prevent these terrorist acts.”