Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 230

The past week saw an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus. It appears that Chechen rebels carried out these attacks as a means of demonstrating to the world that the resistance movement is not yet quelled. The most lethal of the attacks took place on December 9 in Alkhan-Yurt, a village in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan region, where a car bomb killed twenty-one people and wounded perhaps fifty. According to reports yesterday, a number of the wounded were in grave condition and, due to a shortage of medical supplies in the area, the death toll could rise. The high number of deaths appears to have been a result of the fact that two bombs, rather than one, were wired to the car, which was parked near the Rostov-Baku highway. After discovering one bomb, the authorities detonated it by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle, after which they removed the security cordon around it. When a crowd of onlookers, including a large number of children, moved closer to the burning car, a second, larger, undetected bomb detonated. According to one report, the second explosive may have been a 120-155 millimeter artillery shell attached to the undercarriage of the car or the underside of its hood. The youngest victim of the blast was 9 years old. Nine other children were reportedly among the wounded. General Valery Manilov, deputy head of the Armed Forces General Staff, reported that four individuals, including one with an ID revealing him as a member of the Chechen police force, had been detained in connection with the attack. Indeed, Alkhan-Yurt residents, in an appeal made to President Vladimir Putin following a funeral for some of the blast’s victims, claimed that a well-known “bandit” working in Chechnya’s OMOM special police force was responsible for the bombing. Alkhan-Yurt village head Ramzan Vakhidov refused to identify the policeman but said that his name had been given to the republic’s prosecutor’s office and military command (Russian agencies, NTV, December 10). For its part,, the Chechen rebel website, charged today that “Russian occupiers” were behind the bombing.

On December 8, a day before the Alkhan-Yurt bombing, two patients and two military nurses were killed when two gunmen entered Urus-Marten’s central regional hospital and opened fire. The two patients who were killed in this attack were Russian servicemen who had been wounded while fighting in Chechnya. The identity of the gunmen has not been established thus far–or, at least, has not been made public (Segodnya, December 11). Also on December 8, two large bombs went off simultaneously in the city of Pyatigorsk in neighboring Stavropol Krai. Three people were killed and twenty-six wounded in the blasts, which took place near the city’s Verkhny market. According to preliminary findings, each bomb was the equivalent of some 1.5 grams of TNT. The explosion was so powerful that it broke windows as far as a kilometer away, and caused cracks in nearby apartment buildings. As in Alkhan-Yurt, the Pyatigorsk devices were placed in cars. The authorities were able to find the cars’ serial numbers, and, according to the registered owner of one of the vehicles, it had been sold six months previously to someone who appeared to be of Caucasian nationality. From his description, the law enforcement authorities produced a composite sketch of the suspect. Law enforcement officials in Stavropol said yesterday that the perpetrators of the Pyatigorsk bombings might have bought the explosive materials used in the blasts from local policemen. The day prior to the bombings, a local policeman was detained on suspicion of selling weapons. Meanwhile, on the morning of December 9, police in Pyatigorsk found a message written in the snow in the city’s center describing where another bomb would be placed. The authorities put that location under heavy guard. The note also declared that the previous day’s bombings in Pyatigorsk had been an act of revenge. Military officials said yesterday that they believed Chechen rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab were behind the Pyatigorsk blasts as well as the car bomb in Alkhan-Yurt (Russian agencies, December 8-10; NTV, December 10).

Stavropol Krai has been a frequent target of terrorist bombings. The first terrorist act there was the June 1995 Chechen rebel attack on the town of Budennovsk. Pyatigorsk’s railway station was bombed three years ago. That case marks the only instance in which the alleged perpetrators of a terrorist attack in Russia were caught, tried and imprisoned: The two Chechen women charged with the attack, Aset Dadasheva and Fatima Tamaskhanova, remain in a women’s prison camp today. There were also terrorist bombings in the Pyatigorsk and the town of Nevinnomysk on October 6 of this year. Four days after those bombings, an explosive device was discovered in the Prikumye hotel in Budennovsk, but it was defused. Bombs were also found and defused recently in two of Pyatigorsk’s markets.

According to Stavropol Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, residents of the region feel unprotected. Over the last four years, Chernogorov has repeatedly appealed to Moscow to help provide security for the region, demanding decisive measures from the federal government and the president (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 9).