Chechen rebels burned a Russian armored vehicle in the town of Bamut on June 16, the Associated Press reported on June 17. The news agency quoted the Chechen Interior Ministry as saying that a group of rebel fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades at the armored vehicle and that its crew managed to get out unhurt, but that a resident was wounded in the crossfire. RIA Novosti on June 17 quoted a Chechen law-enforcement officer as saying that three unidentified assailants had fired grenade launchers and automatic rifles at two Russian military vehicles in Bamut and that one vehicle had been burned out and a local resident injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, Itar-Tass reported on June 17 that a rebel base had been discovered not far from the village of Agish-Batoi in Chechnya’s Vedeno district on June 15. The news agency quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry source as saying that police had found 8-10 rebel gunmen in Agish-Batoi who “put up armed resistance.” A policeman was wounded in the shootout and the rebels managed to escape. “Later during the mopping-up operation their base consisting of six self-made tents was spotted,” the source told Itar-Tass. “The tents contained clothes, sleeping bags, medicines and foodstuffs. Meanwhile, a grenade launcher, a grenade for it and a machinegun belt were found in a tent.” During an operation launched on June 16 to track down the escaped militants, a policeman stepped on a mine a kilometer away from the Vedeno district village of Pervomaiskoye and his left foot had to be amputated.
On June 16, three border guards with the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service were killed and five wounded when rebel fighters ambushed an FSB automobile column in the village of Chishki in Chechnya’s Groznensky district. Aleksandr Solod, head of the press service of the FSB border guard directorate for North Ossetia, told RIA Novosti that the FSB automobile column was traveling from the village of Borzoi to Vladikavkaz. Solod said that the border guards repelled the attackers but still sustained losses. He identified the three slain border guards as Captain Vladimir Karasev of Ryazan Oblast, Senior Lieutenant Yevgeny Klyukin of Saransk in the Republic of Mordovia and Junior Sergeant Pyotr Bravok of Bryansk Oblast. On June 17, the rebel Kavkaz-Center website claimed responsibility for the attack in Chishki, calling it a “final examination” for “young mujahideen.”
On June 15, unidentified attackers fired a grenade launcher at a member of a regiment from Chechnya’s anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP) in Grozny’s Zavodsky district. The policeman was wounded in the attack while a passer-by, a resident of Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district, was killed. RIA Novosti reported that two policemen were wounded in the attack.
On June 13, a group of rebel gunmen burned three houses and shot three people dead in the village of Benoi-Vedeno in Chechnya’s Nozhai-Yurt district, Itar-Taass reported. A Chechen police source told the news agency that the gunmen set fire to three houses, including the house of the village administration head, and shot people, killing three and wounding one. The gunmen also abducted several people from the village, including a 47-year-old former deputy administration head. Kavkazky Uzel on June 13 quoted law-enforcement sources as identifying the three people killed in Benoi-Vedeno as members of the Yesaev family (the father and two of his sons) and saying that five houses and two automobiles belonging to policemen were burned during the raid. According to the website, the gunmen took an undetermined number of villagers as hostages. Among them was a former village administration head, who was subsequently freed.
Citing “preliminary information,” Itar-Tass reported that the gunmen who raided Benoi-Vedeno were members of a group headed by Usman Muntsigov, aka Shatral, who is on a federal wanted list, and that the gunmen escaped in the direction of the Vedeno district village of Dargo. Kavkazky Uzel reported that Muntsigov’s group consists of 25-60 people. Russian news agencies reported that at least 25 armed rebels were involved in the raid on Benoi-Vedeno.
The rebel Kavkaz-Center website on June 13 quoted a source “in the command of the Eastern Front of the armed forces of the Caucasus Emirate (commander – Amir Aslanbek)” as saying that a large force of mujahideen had killed 11 “Kadyrovites” and wounded at least 17 in the raid on Benoi-Vedeno. The website claimed that 13 “murtads” (apostates), including “both armed puppets and functionaries of the occupation administration,” were seized in the raid, and that the rebel raiders attacked as many as 20 “objects” in the village, burning at least 10 homes of “murtads and accomplices of the Russian kaffirs [infidels].” The Kavkaz-Center report claimed the raiders also seized a large quantity of weapons and ammunition.
According to Kavkaz-Center, units from the Darginsky sector (headed by Amir Osman), the Tsentaroevsky sector (headed by Amir Savab) and “several mobile units belonging to other sectors of the Eastern Front of the armed forces in Caucasus Emirate” took part in the raid on Benoi-Vedeno. Amir Aslanbek was in charge of overall coordination of the “special operation,” the rebel website reported.
Last week’s attacks were the latest evidence that rebels in Chechnya are stepping up their activities. On June 8, three unidentified gunmen fired on servicemen on the outskirts of the town of Vedeno. No one was hurt in the attack. On June 6, a car carrying the head of the Sunzha district police department was blown up, wounding him and two of his bodyguards. On June 5, a group of people dressed in camouflage fired on an automobile in which four local inhabitants were traveling on the outskirts of the Urus-Martin district village of Goi-Chu, killing one and seriously wounding two others. On June 2, a Mi-8 helicopter ferrying a reconnaissance group was fired on by unknown attackers using automatic weapons as it was landing several kilometers from the Vedeno district village of Oktyabrskoye. One of the 12 contract soldiers on board the helicopter was seriously wounded and the attackers escaped.
Commenting on the upswing in rebel activity, the journalist Vladmir Rechkalov wrote in Moskovsky Komsomolets on June 16: “Firing on a helicopter, a raid on a mountain village, two attacks on federal armored columns. Seven killed, eleven wounded, three people taken hostage; five homes, one infantry fighting vehicle, dozens of military and civilian automobiles burned—these are the results of the activity of the gang underground in Chechnya for the first half of June 2008. According to preliminary information, around 100 people acted on the side of the adversary. All of them withdrew without losses. It is a sweet business to fight against a regular army and local government. Especially when the trees are covered with thick foliage, the local ruler is fighting for influence with the federal center and the war has officially ended —and anyone who dares to doubt that finds himself an enemy of stability in the Caucasus.”
Rechkalov continued: “In theory, the militants were supposed to die a natural death this year, going down in history as a morally obsolete political model. Instead, the leader of the underground Dokka Umarov corrected his criminal image, took on a new name—Abu Usman—and carried out, the scoundrel, a series of successful diversionary operations, inflicting not so much material as moral losses on the federal authorities. In less than three weeks, Umarov’s fighters offered their foreign sponsors a whole assortment of their bandit services, from a large-scale attack on a mountain village to an ambush of an FSB column. The geography is practically all of southwestern Chechnya: from Bamut in Achkhoi-Martan district through Chishki in Groznensky district to Benoi-Vedeno in Nozhai-Yurt [district]. The militants demonstrated their stability, and it is premature and criminal to speak of their ideological collapse.” (See Andrei Smirnov’s article in this issue.)