NEWSru.com reported on February 20 that the apartment in which the gunmen barricaded themselves was blockaded the previous day and that security forces negotiated with them all night. The militants, however, refused to give up, and a gun battle broke out around 7:20 a.m., local time, on February 21. The Associated Press, quoting a local Interior Ministry source, reported that the commandos shot tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into the building before entering, and that they broke down a metal door to the second-floor apartment in which the gunmen were holed up but retreated due to a high concentration of gas as well as smoke from a fire that had broken out. They entered after the fire was extinguished, finding three bodies.
Arkady Edelev, a deputy federal Interior Minister, told reporters on February 20 that the three militants killed in Nalchik were members of “the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Jamaat,” were on the federal wanted list for committing terrorist acts in Rostov Oblast and Stavropol Krai and were planning new terrorist acts. Edelev said security forces involved in the operation had used “Cheremukha-7” gas grenades, which, he said are “officially authorized” (The gas used in that grenade is an irritant.) Edelev said that a three-day-long special operation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia had “dealt a serious blow to militants.” On February 19, he said, security personnel destroyed a laboratory located in a garage in Nalchik at which various types of explosive devices, were produced. A large quantity of TNT, plastic explosives, RDX, saltpeter and aluminum, along with 69 detonators, were seized at the lab. Besides the three militants killed in Nalchik on February 20, another five members of the same group were arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria on February 19, Itar-Tass quoted Edelev as saying.
The identity of the three militants killed in Nalchik remains unclear. On February 20, Interfax quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry source as saying that one of the dead was identified as a resident of the Rostov region and another as a Karachaevo-Cherkessia resident, while the third body was in fragments and unrecognizable. RIA Novosti on February 20 quoted a local law-enforcement official as saying that one of the militants was “a native of Murmansk who deserted his military unit in the North Caucasus several years ago and went over to the side of the militants. He is of Russian nationality but after escaping his military unit he converted to Islam.” Lenta.ru reported that according to preliminary information, a second dead militant was from the city of Volgodonsk, which is in Rostov Oblast. Earlier, law-enforcement officials had claimed that the three men killed in Nalchik were part of a group “subordinated to [Chechen rebel warlord Shamil] Basaev and [Chechen separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov” and members of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Jamaat, Lenta.ru reported.
The separatist Chechenpress news agency reported on February 20 that Russian officials had claimed on February 19 prior to the storming of the apartment in Nalchik that the three militants inside were members of the “Yarmuk” Jamaat, but that members of that group had denied the claim. Three members of the “Yarmuk” Jamaat, including its leader, Muslim Ataev, were killed in a shoot-out with security forces in Nalchik on January 27 (see Chechnya Weekly, February 2). The group also claimed responsibility for the attack on the regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) in Nalchik last December, which killed four of the service’s employees.
Meanwhile, police in the city of Karachaevsk in Karachaevo-Cherkessia on February 21 killed an alleged militant who tried to flee after the authorities discovered a group of armed men in an apartment the previous day, the Associated Press reported. The news agency quoted Aleksei Polyansky, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s branch in the Southern Federal District, as saying that police had sealed off the building, where two or three more militants were thought to be holed up. The spokesman gave no further details of the operation.