Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 17

A gun battle between police and suspected Islamic militants took place in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, on April 29, when a police patrol stopped a car for a document check. Kavkazky Uzel quoted an “informed source” as saying that the car was stopped near some garages and that as the police were checking the driver’s documents, three people jumped out of one of the nearby garages and opened fire. According to the source, the police fired back with automatic weapons, and an explosion took place that killed four of the militants. The source of the blast remains unclear: it was caused either by a bomb in the car that detonated, by the car’s gasoline tank or by the militants blowing themselves up. Whatever the case, another two militants, found in a “pit” inside the garage, surrendered. Three policemen were seriously wounded in the battle, one of whom later died.

One of the militants killed in the shootout was identified as Rusam Bekanov – the man who reportedly succeeded Muslim Ataev as leader of the “Yarmuk” Jamaat, Kabardino-Balkaria’s local underground armed Islamic group, after Ataev was killed in shootout with security forces on the outskirts of Nalchik on January 27 (see Checheny Weekly, February 2). On April 29, Kabardino-Balkaria’s prosecutor, Yuri Ketov, confirmed that Bekanov, a native of the village of Chegem in the republic, was among those killed. Kavkazky Uzel cited local law enforcement sources as tentatively identifying two other dead militants as Karachaevo-Cherkessia residents – Magomed Temirezov of the village of Sary-Tyuz and Boris Blimgotov of the city of Karachaevsk. However, Kavkazky Uzel reported on May 3 that Temirezov’s relatives could not positively identify the body that was believed to be his. The fourth dead militant was identified as Mukhtar Batchaev, a Nalchik native. A source in the office of Kabardino-Balkaria’s prosecutor identified the two captured militants as Ismail Baluev, resident of the village of Khasnya in Nalchik’s suburbs, and Magomed Zhantuev, a Nalchik resident. Most of those killed and captured in the incident were in their late 20s or early 30s; one was in his 40s.

Yuri Ketov told RIA Novosti on May 3 that the militants had been planning attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria aimed at the “destabilization” of the region. Another official of the republican prosecutor’s office, Zamir Misrokhov, told the news agency that the militants planned to carry out a series of attacks late on April 29 targeting the offices of the regional anti-organized crime directorate, prosecutor’s office and other government installations in Nalchik. According to Misrokhov, the captured militants said that the orders for the attacks came from Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev, who had expressed “displeasure” over Yarmuk’s “inactivity.” RIA Novosti quoted a high-level source in Kabardino-Balkaria’s power structures as saying that the republic’s special services had “exact information” that Basaev met on more than one occasion with Yarmuk leader Muslim Ataev and his successor, Rustam Bekanov, in a district of Kabardino-Balkaria. “In particular, Basaev miraculously managed to escape spetsnaz of the republic’s [Kabardino-Balkaria’s] Interior Ministry in the fall of 2003, when his group was blockaded in a house in one of the republic’s mountainous districts,” the source told RIA Novosti.

The source also told the news agency that Bekanov and one of the two captured militants, Magomed Zhantuev, were on the federal wanted list for alleged involvement in an attack in the Chegem district in August 2004 in which two policemen were killed and four wounded. (The Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported on September 29, 2004, that in the battle near the village of Chegem, which lasted for more than eight hours, as many as 400 members of the security forces using armored vehicles and two helicopters fought a group of just eight fighters, but that the militants still “managed to escape from the corn field where they had been surrounded.”) Yarmuk claimed responsibility for the attack on a regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) in Nalchik that killed four of that agency’s employees (see Chechnya Weekly, January 13).

Meanwhile, the Regnum news agency on April 21 reported that police had detained nine female students at Kabardino-Balkaria’s State University for reading the Koran together. The students were reading the Koran in an auditorium, where they had been gathering for that purpose several times a week, when the facility’s superintendent entered and told them that he had called the police. After that, the deacons of several faculties arrived at the auditorium with university security guards and told the students that wearing hijab and studying the Koran together violated the university’s regulations. The students were questioned by the police for eight hours, and university officials later warned them that they would be expelled if they publicly read the Koran or gathered in the auditorium for discussions with other Muslims. After the incident, the deputy chairman of the Coordination Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, Mufti Shafig-Khadzhi Pshikhachev, announced that he planned to appeal to the Kabardino-Balkaria authorities concerning the infringement of rights of Muslims in the republic.