The separatist Chechenpress and Kavkazcenter websites on May 30 quoted a source in the Military Committee of the GKO [State Defense Committee] Majlis-ul-Shura as saying that “the first vice premier of the ChRI [Chechen Republic of Ichkeria] government, military emir of the mujahideen Abdallakh Shamil Abu-Idris” — a.k.a. Shamil Basaev — had chaired a meeting of the commanders of the military sectors of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and their deputies. There was no indication of precisely where or when the meeting took place. The source also reported that, on orders from ChRI president Abdul Khalim-Sadulaev, Basaev had carried out an “inspection tour” around the North Caucasus during April and May, with stops in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Chechnya.
While the rebel websites did not indicate the purpose of Basaev’s trip around the North Caucasus, Kommersant (May 31) quoted sources in the entourage of Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based rebel representative who was appointed to the post of ChRI foreign minister by Sadulaev on May 27 (see below), as saying that a shura of all the rebel field commanders had been held in Chechnya during the second half of May. The sources, however, played down the significance of the shura, stating that such meetings “take place regularly,” and that it should not be assumed that this latest meeting presages any impending action.
However, there is a pattern of Basaev spending time in places shortly before they become targets of large-scale rebel operations. As Kommersant noted, investigators believe Basaev was driven around Ingushetia on the eve of the large-scale rebel assault on its law-enforcement structures in June 2004. His driver was Magomed Lolokhoev, a militant who had penetrated the Ingush police and, thanks to his police uniform and documents, was able to drive his Volga car through security checkpoints even with Basaev inside. The newspaper also noted that Basaev was in Kabardino-Balkaria shortly before the August 2005 attacks by Islamic militants in that republic’s capital, Nalchik. “So it is impossible to rule out that on the heels of Shamil Basaev’s excursion the militants could step up their actions not only in Chechnya, but also in other republics of the North Caucasus,” Kommersant wrote.
Russia’s special services, meanwhile, would neither confirm nor deny information about Basaev’s reported excursion. “We do not regard it as necessary to comment on information disseminated by the militant’s websites; we operate on our own information,” a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in Ingushetia, Yuri Muravyev, told Kommersant, adding that he had no information that the rebels were preparing an offensive. Likewise, a spokesman for the Chechen branch of the FSB, Aleksandr Belov, said he had no information about the rebels planning an offensive or Basaev’s whereabouts: “If we knew where he was, we would have caught him long ago.”
North Ossetian Deputy Interior Minister Soslan Sikoyev told Interfax on May 31 that his ministry had no information to confirm reports that Basaev had been in the republic. “We have been working hard, but during the entire period of our fight against terrorism we have not found any supporters of Basaev in the republic’s population,” Sikoyev said. Interfax reported that a source in Stavropol Krai’s law enforcement agencies had declined either to confirm or deny reports that Basaev had traveled through the republics neighboring Chechnya.