Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 21

Four federal Interior Ministry troops were killed and three wounded in an ambush by rebel fighters in Chechnya’s Vedeno on May 24, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to the online journal Gazeta, a Russian Interior Ministry unit was ambushed near the settlement of Eshilkhatoi in central Vedeno district at around 11:30 PM local time on May 23 (Gazeta, May 25). The unit was reportedly searching for a group of 15-20 suspected militants spotted in the region earlier that day. The three wounded servicemen, including one major, were first treated at the Khankala base outside Grozny and later at the Russian military base at Mozdok, North Ossetia, from where they were flown to the Internal Troops’ Central Military Clinical Hospital in the city of Balashikha outside Moscow. Additional units were deployed to block off the area where the ambush occurred, with troops actively searching for the attackers. As Gazeta noted, however, past experience shows that the perpetrators of such attacks are apprehended “extremely rarely.” “They often simply dissolve among the inhabitants of local villages,” the website observed. “Furthermore, the extremists are better familiarized with the locality and know all of the forest and mountain trails. We would also note that the Vedeno district is considered to be Shamil Basaev’s ancestral lands.”

Separately, Reuters on May 24 reported that a member of a police team investigating a roadside bombing in Grozny’s Oktyabrsky district was shot dead and another wounded while interviewing local residents. According to reports in Gazeta, Valery Kuznetsov, Chechnya’s prosecutor, said that the bomb was apparently detonated by remote control and had wounded a policeman. Following the shootings, Reuters quoted Ali Yasaev, head of the capital’s Oktyabrsky district, as telling reporters: “Relative calm had been attained in the republic, but sadly this has been violated recently. This is the third time this week that the rebels have attacked police officers and servicemen (in Chechnya).” These attacks came a week after five policemen were killed and six wounded when rebel fighters ambushed a convoy on the outskirts on the settlement of Niki-Khita in Chechnya’s Kurchaloi district (Chechnya Weekly, May 18).

Meanwhile, Dagestan witnessed yet another assault by heavily-armed security forces on militants held-up in an apartment building in Khasavyurt. On May 21, Itar-Tass and Rossia TV quoted Sergei Solodovnikov, first deputy head of the federal Interior Ministry’s main directorate for the Southern Federal District, as saying that the rebel “emir” of Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district, Bulat Abdulaev, and another rebel, Askhat Budaev, were killed during a special operation. According to Dagestani police sources, the shoot-out started when the two militants refused to surrender, responding instead with gunfire. According to Solodonikov, the ensuing battle left the militant’s apartment building almost completely burned out. He also noted there was reason to believe that the rebels blew themselves up during the gun battle: “We heard powerful explosions inside the house and after that they stopped firing at us.” Solodovnikov also noted that the Khasavyurt rebel emir, Bulat Abdulaev, was “known to everybody in law-enforcement circles” as the leader of the rebel underground in Khasavyurt and had a past replete with “terrorist attacks and the murders of more than 10 law enforcement officers.”

Independent media corroborate some of those claims. In a report filed from Khasavyurt published on May 23, Kommersant correspondent Yulia Rybina wrote that the two-story apartment building where the rebels made their last stand looked like something out of a “war newsreel,” with the roof blown off and huge holes in apartment walls. The correspondent quoted extensively from residents of the building, including several who claimed that security forces looted their apartments. One sobbing woman told Rybina that the soldiers stole “everything,” including her documents and 100,000 rubles (around US$3,700) that she had taken out as a loan. Another also said that documents and money were missing after the security forces entered her apartment, and that she found photographs, blankets, pillows and mattresses in her apartment torn up. Residents observed the security forces responsible for these actions did not speak with a Dagestani accent. According to Kommersant, a federal Interior Ministry mobile unit led the assault on the apartment building.

Violence continues to plague other Dagestani cities. Earlier this month, one policeman was killed and 14 other people (12 policemen, one fireman and one civilian) were wounded in a gun battle in the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt. Following the incident, Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev asked his security chiefs whether they could carry out “an operation to seize and liquidate two militants with less blood, less damage, and more professionally.” Security officials, however, put the blame for the destruction on the militants, who, they said, had made preparations for an extended siege and, having vowed to become shaheeds, or martyrs, refused to surrender (Chechnya Weekly, May 18).

Meanwhile, on May 25, a vehicle carrying police in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, came under fire, Itar-Tass reported. The news agency quoted a Dagestani Interior Ministry spokesperson as saying that none of the policemen in the vehicle were injured and that one of the six attackers may have been wounded by retaliatory fire.