Chechen Interior Ministry Sources Doubt Umarov is Surrounded

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 27

Two members of the Interior Ministry Internal Troops’ special Yug (South) battalion were wounded in a shootout with militants in a wooded area near the village of Eshelkhatoi in Chechnya’s Vedeno district on July 7, Kavkazky Uzel reported. A Chechen police source told the website the shootout took place when members of the Yug battalion who were carrying out a joint operation with local police encountered a group of eight rebels, who opened fire on them with automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

The Associated Press on July 8 quoted security officers as saying they had killed a “suspected Islamic militant” who was holed up on the third floor of a dilapidated apartment building in Grozny. The sources told AP that two officers were wounded in a shootout with the militant after dozens of federal troops and police had surrounded the building in the Chechen capital. The same sources told the news agency that the slain 22-year-old man had been detained previously for suspected membership in an Islamic group. Yet Kavkazky Uzel reported on July 8 in an item apparently about the same incident that a man had been killed that day in Grozny’s Leninsky district in a shootout between armed people in camouflage. The website stated that, according to one version of the incident, the gun battle erupted when security forces tried to capture a rebel fighter. Yet according to another version of events, the shootout was actually between two groups of “siloviki”—meaning security forces—Kavkazky Uzel reported.

Separately, the Caucasus Times on July 9 quoted a Chechen law-enforcement source as saying that officers from the Chechen criminal investigation department and the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had detained two individuals in Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky district suspected of involvement in “illegal armed formations.” The same source said that a shootout had taken place between members of the federal Defense Ministry’s Vostok battalion and three unidentified men in a wooded area of the Vedeno district, but that no one was hurt in the gun battle.

The Caucasus Times also quoted the first deputy commander of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, Colonel General Sergei Bunin, as saying that the aggravation of the situation in Chechnya’s mountainous districts, where militants have carried out several attacks on federal troops, border troops and Chechen policemen, was connected to the fact that the “illegal armed formations” had received money from abroad. Bunin was quoted as saying that he also did not rule out the possibility that rebel leader Dokka Umarov was involved in organizing terrorist attacks. Bunin said that the command of the Combined Group of Forces in the North Caucasus had taken a number of measures aimed at thwarting the actions of “bandit groups” in Chechnya and plans to carry out “large-scale operations to eliminate terrorists in the republic’s mountainous areas.”

Bunin’s claim that the rebels have received fresh infusions of money from abroad echoes the claim made by Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov on June 30 that the recent increase in rebel activity was the result of fresh financial infusions from Arab “sponsors” (North Caucasus Weekly, July 3).

Meanwhile, Kavkazky Uzel on July 9 quoted Chechen Interior Ministry sources as saying they had no information confirming reports that had appeared in the Russian press several days earlier claiming that security forces had blockaded Dokka Umarov in Chechnya’s mountainous Shatoi district. Those reports had cited “competent sources,” who claimed that Umarov and his close associate Tarkhan Gaziev, who heads the Mukhabarat (security service) of the rebels’ recently proclaimed Caucasian Emirate, were trapped by federal forces on the outskirts of the village of Kharsenoi. The sources claimed that Russian military intelligence (GRU) commandos were involved in the encirclement of the rebel leaders and that federal forces were bombarding the presumed location of Umarov and Gaziev using long-range artillery.

“Umarov is a native of the Shatoi district village of Kharsenoi and it is precisely on the outskirts of this village where he, as far as I know, usually likes to hide,” an unnamed Chechen Interior Ministry source told Kavkazky Uzel. “But I think that if Umarov really was ‘blocked up’ in that area, there would already have been some concrete results. Will the military bombard the woods for weeks and wait for Umarov and his band to run directly into the ambush organized by the spetsnaz? That’s simply absurd. Even if he was there, he would have left immediately after the artillery fire started. They [the militants] constantly move around not only in Chechnya’s mountains, but also go out into contiguous territories, because that is the only chance they have to survive.”

Kavkazky Uzel reported that Shatoi district inhabitants confirmed that there had been recent intense artillery shelling on the outskirts of Kharsenoi, which was practically leveled back at the start of the “counter-terrorist operation” in Chechnya in 1999. At the same time, the locals said such shelling is not uncommon and that the military periodically bomb surrounding woods and mountain gorges from the air as well as using artillery.