Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 39

Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for the October 13 Nalchik raid in a statement posted on October 17 by the separatist Kavkazcenter website. The “full-scale assault operation against the Russian occupation forces and their stooges” was carried out by some 217 “mujahideen” who attacked 15 targets, Basaev said. These included the FSB headquarters, the “T” anti-terrorism center, the headquarters of the Interior Ministry operational administration group, the regional anti-organized crime directorate (RUBOP), the Interior Ministry headquarters, the three district police precinct buildings, a regiment of the post and patrol service, the OMON special-purpose police headquarters, a chief penal directorate special assignment force, a border detachment, the Nalchik airport, a Defense Ministry company and an explosives brigade.

“Groups unfamiliar to us attacked the armored stores,” Basaev stated, apparently referring to a Nalchik gun shop that was looted. Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov was not attacked, he said, only because he had given an order to reopen mosques closed by his predecessor and “this virtually saved his life.”

Basaev claimed that about 140 “infidels and traitors” were killed and 160 wounded in the raid and that these were “mainly special troops” that had been brought into the republic. Three helicopters and several armored vehicles were destroyed and equipment was seized, he said. A total of 41 rebel fighters became “shahids,” or martyrs, Basaev stated, calling the death toll for his men a “great loss” and the result of a “serious leak of information” five days earlier that led to the deployment of an additional 1,000 special forces into the republic. Despite these problems, the rebels decided on October 11 to go ahead with the raid, Basaev said.

Basaev said the while he was “in overall operational command,” the raid was “carried out under the command of the emir of the Kabardino-Balkarian sector of the Caucasian Front, Seyfullakh.” During the rebel attack on the FSB building in Nalchik, Basaev added, Ilyas Gorkhanov, his operations deputy and the “emir of the Ingushetian jamat, who commanded the rebels’ “Tsentr assault groups” in Nalchik, was killed, while the emirs of the Ossetian and Krasnodar sectors were slightly wounded. Vremya novostei reported on October 17 that Gorkhanov was among the attackers who took hostages in the “Podarki” gift shop across from the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in central Nalchik, who were killed when security forces stormed the shop.

“Despite the heavy losses, the operation was highly successful for us, because our dead have gone to Paradise, inshallah, whereas their dead have gone to Hell!” Basaev declared in his statement. “The outstanding courage and heroism of our brothers in Nalchik gives us the confidence and resolve to continue the struggle to complete victory. The Jihad, by the grace of God, is expanding and moving to a higher level of self-consciousness and self-sacrifice, when the desire to die on God’s path is stronger than the will of our enemies to live. And this world will burn with a blue flame quicker than we will relinquish our Faith and Freedom! And may God help us on His direct path! Victory or Paradise!”

Chechen rebel president Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, for his part, said in a statement posted on the separatist Chechenpress website on October 18 that the Nalzhik raid “in which sub-units and some other sectors of the Caucasian Front took part, our fighters, with the help of the Almighty, dealt a palpable blow against the enemy.” He added, however: “Most regrettably, a certain number of innocent civilians were killed during the fighting in Nalchik. We, as well as anyone in the world, know the pain and grief of those who have lost their nearest and dearest and we convey our profound condolences to them. However, I am certain that the fighters of the Caucasian Front did everything they could to carry out the rigid order of their command: to avoid at all cost victims among the civilian population, for whose freedom and dignity we are waging this war! Our fighters attacked military targets and their fire was directed at those objectives where there were no civilians. The enemy panicked and their random fire hit residential areas and casual passers-by, as happens when our fighters enter into a battle with the enemy. Therefore there is no doubt that the vast majority of the people killed at Nalchik were victims of the Russian occupying forces and their local stooges.”

Sadulaev finished his statement by hinting that more large-scale attacks outside Chechnya are in the offing. “In conclusion, I would like to point out that the Caucasus fighters fulfilled all the tasks to destroy military targets in Nalchik set by our command,” he said. “Such military operations by our fighters will henceforth become, inshallah, the constant fate of the occupation forces and their henchmen throughout the Caucasus.”

While neither Basaev nor Sadulaev detailed the role played in the raid by local militants from Kabardino-Balkaria, on October 13, the day of the raid, the Kavkacenter website posted a claim of responsibility for the raid by the Caucasus Front, which, it said, is part of the Chechen rebel army and includes Kabardino-Balkaria’s Yarmuk Jamaat. That underground Islamist organization has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria, including the December 2004 attack on the Federal Drug Control offices in Nalchik. Kommersant reported on October 17 that Anzor Astermirov, a leader of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria who was allegedly involved in the attack on the Federal Drug Control offices, is believed to have helped organize the Nalchik raid and may have escaped the city. According to the newspaper, the bodies of five of Astermirov’s close associates—Aeksandr Bashloev, Zaur and Ruslan Afovy, Ramzan Guziev and Alim Zhelikhazhev—have been identified among the rebel fighters killed in Nalchik.

Novaya gazeta wrote on October 17 that the Jamaat of the Kabardino-Balkaria includes 30–35 illegal Islamic societies that have 6,000–7,000 mainly young members, who consider their leader to be Mussa Mukozhev, the “emir of the Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria.” Mukozhev went underground after the authorities arrested several of the jamaat’s members for alleged involvement in the December 2004 attack on the Federal Drug Control offices (see Chechnya Weekly, October 6). Yet the bi-weekly wrote that Anzor Astermirov is the jamaat’s real “emir.”