On February 1 three homemade bombs exploded almost simultaneously in casinos and gambling clubs in the center of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. Two persons were killed and 25 wounded in the blasts. The republican prosecutor’s office subsequently initiated criminal proceeding under the “terrorism” and “illegal trade in explosives” articles of the Criminal Code (Interfax, February 1).
On February 5, the Caucasus rebel Kavkazcenter website posted a statement by the Ossetian Jamaat organization claiming responsibility for the attack. “The timing of the operation and the quantity of explosives were chosen so as to inflict maximum damage to the clubs, but to minimize casualties as much as possible,” according to the statement, which was signed by a “deputy commander” of the Jamaat group. He also warned all owners of gambling facilities in North Ossetia that they would be “punished severely for encouraging moral corruption.” One day after the explosions North Ossetian leader Teimuraz Mamsurov ordered all gambling clubs and casinos in the republic to close (NTV, February 2).
This is not the first time that the North Ossetian rebels have made their presence known. In 2002 a Russian border guard truck was bombed on a mountain road leading to the Georgian border. In 2004 a passenger train derailed near the Ossetian capital, and a car bomb exploded near a military column in Vladikavkaz. Last May Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev issued a decree to establish a Caucasian front that included North Ossetia. Sadulaev appointed Alan Digorsky, an Ossetian better known as Amir Saad, commander of the Ossetian sector (Kavkazcenter.com, May 16, 2005).
After this decree the republic’s insurgents stepped up their activities considerably. On June 3, an electricity substation that supplies the military base housing the Russian 58th Army, stationed in the republic, was damaged with rocket-propelled grenades (NTV, June 3, 2005). On September 17, the rebels derailed a freight train near the border with Ingushetia. There was also an attempt to blow up the natural gas pipeline that exports gas to Georgia (Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 17, 2005). On October 3, the rebels ambushed a car carrying officials from the Chechen prosecutor’s office from Chechnya to Kabardino-Balkaria (Interfax, October 3, 2005). According to different sources, one or more officials were injured in the attack. On October 26, Ossetian gunmen attacked a military jeep carrying soldiers from the 126th regiment of the Russian Interior troops who were driving to Ossetia from Ingushetia. Four soldiers were killed and one wounded (Kavkazky uzel, October 27, 2005). On December 26, gunmen stopped a car carrying a local businessman near the village of Bryut and robbed him of $42,000. The insurgents declared that they would confiscate money from all businessmen who “sell goods banned by Sharia law” and, “The money will be spent on weapons and ammunition for the Ossetian mujahideen (Kavkazcenter.com, December 26, 2005). On January 11, militants attacked an Ossetian policeman near his house. He was seriously injured but survived (Interfax, January 11).
Given how quickly North Ossetia is becoming another battlefield of the Caucasian war, Russian authorities have ordered local security officials to become more active in fighting the local insurgency network. Instead, the Ossetian authorities decided that the increasing instability in the republic provides an ideal opportunity to rid the republic of Ingush refugees. On November 11, an Ossetian police patrol stopped a bus en route to North Ossetia with refugees from Ingushetia, and told them to return to Ingushetia. The commander of the police post referred to a recent Ossetian Ministry of Internal Affairs order that says, “Harsh measures should be taken in the republic against persons of Ingush origin” (Kavkazsky uzel, November 14, 2005). The Ingush aboard in the bus insisted on meeting with Minister of Internal Affairs Sergei Arenin in person. Arenin agreed, but told the Ingush present, “You shoot, but I am responsible for order in the republic” (Kavkazsky uzel, November 14, 2005). Arenin made it clear that the North Ossetian authorities blame the Ingush for the recent wave of attacks on soldiers and policemen.
However, it is very unlikely that the Ingush are involved in the North Ossetian insurgency. There are more than enough Ossetians who have been motivated to join the Caucasian rebels. While most of the Ossetians are Christians, 15-30% of the population is Muslim, according to official estimates (see Chechnya Weekly, March 30, 2005). Since there are no deep Islamic traditions in Ossetian culture, local Muslims are very amenable to radical and politically oriented Islam. Some observers predicted last year that arrests of Islamic leaders in North Ossetia after the terrorist attack in the town of Beslan in 2004 would contribute to the radicalization of the local Muslim community, especially in view of the conflict spreading from Chechnya to the entire North Caucasus (see Chechnya Weekly, March 30, 2005).
On January 1, Kavkazcenter posted a statement from Ossetian Jamaat, calling on the Muslims of Ossetia to struggle “on the path of Allah,” which is “the duty of every true believer.”
Yet, Ossetian security officials continue to insist that there is no insurgency in North Ossetia. After the explosions in Vladikavkaz, officers in the republican Ministry of Internal Affairs told Kommersant that they knew nothing about Ossetian Jamaat (Kommersant, February 7). This position of the authorities is understandable; to admit the existence of militant separatists in the republic long considered to be the Caucasus republic most loyal to Moscow would demonstrate the severity of the challenges that the Kremlin faces in the North Caucasus.