Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 8 that Chechnya’s rebels have stepped up their activities and even taken control of villages on at least two occasions during the last month. With the arrival of spring and the appearance of foliage, which works to the advantage of guerrilla fighters, rebel units have noticeably stepped up their actions in the republic’s foothills and mountainous regions, the website reported. While last month’s incident in the village of Alkhazurovo, in which a large contingent of rebel fighters took over the village and held it for several hours, killing five policemen and burning down the local administration building before leaving (Chechnya Weekly, March 20 and April 3), received significant press coverage, a similar rebel operation in the village of Yandi-Kotar in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district received none.
Kavkazky Uzel correspondent Muslim Ibragimov quoted an anonymous Yandi-Kotar resident as saying: “On the evening of April 3, a small group of people in military uniforms with weapons entered the village. There were 10-15 of them. They made the rounds of the homes, mainly those in which police staff live, and asked whether they were home or not. After finding no one, they left. They conducted themselves confidently and calmly. Essentially Yandi-Kotar was under their control for several hours. People say they were fighters of the field commander Tarkhan Gaziev, who is the commander of the militants in this district. Not finding policemen in the village, they simply went back into the woods. The next morning the military and police came and combed the forest tract on the outskirts of the village but didn’t find anyone.”
Kavkazky Uzel reported that Chechnya’s Interior Ministry refused to comment on the incident, saying only that there had been no armed confrontations with members of “illegal armed formations” in southwestern Chechnya at the time the incident reportedly took place. “Naturally, with the arrival of spring and the appearance of vegetation, the bandits step up their activities somewhat – although, as in all of the recent years, they have neither the strength nor the funds to conduct any kind of large-scale actions; but they are still capable of petty tricks in the form of minor sorties, attacks and … terrorist attacks,” an unnamed Chechen Interior Ministry source told the website. “The situation around the republic in general is rather peaceful and is under the complete control of the power structures.”
Still, according to Kavkazky Uzel, many policemen, especially those working in villages in the mountainous and foothill districts, are taking precautions while traveling in cars, especially after dark. “The militants sometimes set up checkpoints on the roads,” an unnamed policeman in the mountainous Vedeno district told the website. “They stop cars and ask for documents. In general, they behave like real MVD employees. But if someone shows them a [police] ID, then they pull him out of the car and kill him. That’s their new tactic.” The Vedeno policeman said incidents of rebels setting up checkpoints occur infrequently but “rather periodically.” He added: “Therefore, I, like other employees of our ROVD [police department], never show IDs to soldiers standing on the roads. There is no guarantee that the person before you won’t turn out to be a disguised militant.”
As Kavkazky Uzel noted on April 9, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov claimed at the end of January that only 60-70 rebels remained in Chechnya and promised to wipe them out before the start of spring. “This is their last winter, I assure you,” Kadyrov said (Chechnya Weekly, February 7).
Meanwhile, one officer was injured on the evening of April 7 when a police station in the Chechen capital Grozny came under fire from unknown assailants armed with automatic weapons. “The incident took place around midnight,” a police source told RIA Novosti on April 8. “A senior police official was hospitalized with a gunshot wound.” Kavkazky Uzel on April 9 quoted an unnamed Chechen Interior Ministry source as saying the target of the attack was a police station in the village of Kirov in Grozny’s Zavodsky district and that a Capt. Mausarov was wounded in the attack. The source said that 50 spent Kalashnikov shell casings were found at the site of the attack.
Kavkazky Uzel on April 10 quoted an unnamed Chechen police officer as saying that Interior Ministry Internal Troops had discovered a small rebel base on the outskirts of the village of Komsolmolskoe (Saadi-Kotar) in Chechnya’s Urus-Martan district. The source said that the base consisted of seven huts and that 560 grenade-launcher rounds were discovered there. The same anonymous police officer reported that a rebel weapons cache was discovered on the outskirts of the town of Shatoi. The arms cache, which consisted of around a thousand rounds for small arms, a large-caliber mortar round and two anti-tank rounds, reportedly belonged to rebel Amir Ruslan Seriev, who was killed near the Shatoi district village of Sharo-Argun in February (Chechnya Weekly, February 21).
Kavkazky Uzel also reported on April 10 that security forces had captured a man in Grozny’s Zavodsky district who earlier belonged to the group headed by the notorious rebel field commander Arbi Baraev, who was killed in 2001. A Chechen Interior Ministry source identified the captured former rebel as a 33-year-old Zavodsky district resident named Yusupov. The same source said that on April 8, security forces in the town of Vedeno had captured a local resident suspected of having aided and abetted fighters under the command of Shamil Basaev, the rebel military leader killed in Ingushetia in the summer of 2006.
According to RIA Novosti, the federal Interior Ministry reported on April 8 that troops from the Combined Group of Forces in the North Caucasus destroyed 14 “terrorist bases” and 22 arms caches in Chechnya in March. The ministry said in a press release that the Combined Group of Forces conducted “over 100 special operations, which resulted in the seizure of 20 firearms, six grenade launchers, about 3,000 rounds of ammunition and over 280 kilograms (617 lbs) of explosive material.” The ministry also reported that federal forces last month inspected over 11,000 kilometers (6,837 miles) of roads and during those inspections discovered and destroyed six home-made explosive devices and over 700 “highly explosive objects.” Earlier, Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Simakov said law enforcement bodies had arrested or killed over 100 militants in Chechnya since the start of this year and that the number of terrorist attacks in the republic declined by almost 72 percent last year.
For his part, Deputy Russian Interior Minister Colonel-General Arkady Yedelev, who is in charge of the operational headquarters in Chechnya, told a meeting of the anti-terrorist commission in Grozny on April 10 that a total of 192 militants and armed gang members were killed and more than 700 arrested in anti-terrorist operations in Russia’s North Caucasus last year, RIA Novosti reported. Yedelev said that a total of 17 armed criminal groups were eliminated and 28 leaders killed in the region during the year. Citing police reports from March, RIA Novosti reported that some 103 militants have been arrested or killed in Chechnya since the start of this year. Yedelev also said that the number of terrorist attacks had significantly dropped, from 39 in 2006 to 11 last year, adding that the number of abductions in the republic had also significantly dropped over the past two years, signaling a breakthrough in the situation related to kidnappings. “Eighteen criminal cases were launched for the abduction of 21 people in 2007, while in 2002, 845 people were abducted in Chechnya, with 611 cases opened,” he said.
Yedelev also said that a danger from divided militant groups and “religious extremist structures” remains, Interfax reported on April 10 (see Andrei Smirnov’s article below). Kavkazky Uzel reported on April 8 that Chechnya’s first deputy mufti, Daud Semurzaev, has called for a stepped up campaign against “Wahhabism.” He told a meeting of district religious officials that it is necessary not only to disseminate anti-Wahhabi propaganda in the mosques, but also in rural assemblies and schools.