Attack on Parliament in Grozny: Gain or Loss for the Rebels?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 195

Russian special forces stand outside the parliament building in Grozny. At least six people were killed in the militant attack. (AFP)

The attack perpetrated by four Chechen suicide bombers or shahids in downtown Grozny on October 19th, 2010 struck everyone by surprise. An explosion occurred early in the morning around 8:45 in the fenced yard of the Chechen parliament building killing two police officers on duty standing at the checkpoint, and wounding six others. Later that day, a parliament official died during the shootout while 11 civilians were wounded (www.yuga.ru/news/204841/). Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Russian leader rejected those numbers and claimed instead that only two people were wounded during the storming of the parliament. (http://news.mail.ru/inregions/caucasus/20/4624943/)

What really happened in Grozny on Tuesday, October 19th? The opinion voiced by some political analysts alleging that the incident was a defeat for the rebels does not seem to be well founded. (www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/2194856.html) This point of view is based on the argument that not a single member of Chechen parliament was taken hostage. But who can claim that this was the exact goal of the militants? Last year, Chechen rebels on bicycles killed themselves in suicide attacks against security officers (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-24377.html). Therefore, taking hostages was not the key goal of the rebels’s plan. Additionally, it seems unlikely that three militants would have been sufficient in order to seize the parliament building which was fenced in and guarded from all sides. According to Sergey Abeltsev, a committee member in Russia’s legislative organ, the state duma, government buildings in the Chechen capital were well protected; there is a multilayer security system in place. Penetrating it is by no means an easy task (www.newsinfo.ru/articles/2010-10-19/item/740944/). Given that, it might be presumed that the goal of the three suicide bombers hardly was to take parliament members hostage and put forward demands. This is not a characteristic feature of the shahid modus operandi. Shahids did not seem interested in negotiations. The fact that the first explosion took place at the entrance to the parliament proves that the rebel had no desire to engage in a shootout or combat; his task was to commit the suicide bombing in order to destroy the building’s exit points. Given this information, how would the two remaining militants have managed to take hostages? (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-10-20/1_chechnia.html). One witness recalls that there was a real battle for an hour and half (http://newsru.com/russia/19oct2010/gakaev.html), which refutes the Russian authorities’s claims that the entire operation lasted only a few minutes.

Some experts and political analysts try to fit their assumptions in the standard framework that they have already developed regarding the situation in Chechnya. It was no coincidence that the parliament bombing occurred during Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev’s visit to Grozny.  Ironically, his trip sought to improve the measures that were being taken in order to strengthen security in the troubled North Caucasus Federal District. (http://groztrk.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3112&Itemid=99999999)

The terrorist attack was characterized as a gift for Russia’s chief policeman. Apparently, they did not plan for a seizure of the parliament building, but rather to bring about a powerful message through their action. To that end, they pulled off their scheme rather efficiently. The bombing of the Chechen parliament was reported by, without exception, all international news agencies. Even those who had already forgotten the reports from war-torn Chechnya, once again became engaged with Chechen issues. The bombing took place after numerous Russian government statements claiming that Chechnya was now stable and calm. With that, Ramzan Kadyrov’s prestige was also severely hit.

The culprits behind the latest shahid action remain shrouded in intrigue. It is still difficult to arrive at conclusions since the perpetrators have not been identified yet. There is speculation that the parliament bombing was undertaken by Khussein Gakaev’s men – a scenario that cannot be excluded. But it could well have been done by militants under the leadership of Doku Umarov who may have wanted to show everyone that he continues to be active despite reports of a mutiny among his ranks. For Chechnya’s newly emerged Emir Khussein Gakaev, this would have been an opportunity to demonstrate his strength and ability while presenting himself as the viable new leader to the rebel community (http://news.mail.ru/inregions/caucasus/20/4625169/). It is worth noting that a group of shahids that conducted their actions in 2009 belonged to the rebel unit led by him in the Shalin sector of the Southeast Front in Chechnya.  

The United States, the European Union and other major international actors all voiced their positions condemning the shahid assault on the Chechen parliament (www.rian.ru/world/20101019/287305662.html). The Chechen authorities blamed unnamed forces in the West for helping organize the bombing. A similar opinion was voiced by Leonid Slutskiy, the first deputy chair of the committee for international affairs in the Russian State Duma, who alleged that the shahid attack was aimed at damaging the reputation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who was about to attend a trilateral Franco-German-Russian summit (www.yuga.ru/news/204841/). The chairman of the European Parliament denounced the attack and expressed regret over the intensifying violence in the region (www.1k-tv.com/index-3-newsinfo-9127). Meanwhile, Kadyrov even named the person who ‘ordered’ the bombing. According to him, Akhmed Zakaev, (www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/20101019184405.shtml), a Chechen political refugee who lives in Great Britain was behind the incident.

Kadyrov presented charges against Zakaev twice in the past week. On October 12th, as the all-Chechen Congress was taking place, Kadyrov accused Zakaev of being implicated in the shahid attack in the village of Tsentoroy on August 29th. Kadyrov believed that Zakaev helped organize that incident in order to blacken the current Chechen leader’s prestige. Although Kadyrov’s accusations were highly unconvincing, the Chechen authorities already declared a vendetta against Zakaev for killing people in Tsentoroy.
(www.gazeta.ru/politics/2010/10/13_a_3428202.shtml)

Zakaev has categorically denied the charges against him and made clear that the attack on the parliament is nothing but the consequence of the unfinished war that started in 1999 (www.bbc.co.uk/russian/russia/2010/10/101019_kadyrov_zakayev_accusations.shtml).

Militants, ready to commit suicide bombings not only in Chechnya but in Russia, are expected to continue.