Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 1

On January 3, a shootout between gunmen and police in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala left a police officer and two local residents wounded and one gunman dead. Citing Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported that the incident took place around 5PM Moscow time on Ganidov Prospekt in Makhachkala, when police tried to stop a Zhiguli car for a document check and someone inside the vehicle fired on them. One of the gunmen was killed in the ensuing gun battle while the three others in the car managed to escape. One of the escaping gunmen may have been wounded. Interfax quoted a Makhachkala police official as saying that two local residents were slightly injured in the gunfight and that the life of the wounded policeman, shot in the leg, was not in danger.

RIA Novosti reported on January 4 that a local Makhachkala resident had been arrested after weapons and ammunition were discovered in his car. The news agency quoted a Dagestani Interior Ministry source as saying that police had found an RPG-18 grenade launcher, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Makarov pistol, a silencer and more than 400 cartridges in the car’s trunk. According to the source, police also found a notebook containing the license plate numbers of cars belonging to police personnel along with the policemen’s home addresses.

The January 3 shooting incident came just several days after two police officers were murdered in separate incidents in the Dagestani capital. One of the murders took place on New Year’s Eve. Interfax, on January 1, quoted the head of the Makhachkala police department’s press service, Snezhan Topuzliev, as saying that a sergeant from the 2nd regiment of the Makhachkala police department’s patrol-sentry service, Dzhalkhan Bairamov, was shot to death by unknown attackers shortly before 11PM on December 31 after leaving a police post near the home of a district police chief to go to a store. According to Topuzliev, Bairamov died after being shot six times with a pistol. “The criminals took a submachine gun from the dead man,” he said. Bairamov left behind a wife and two children. Another Makhachkala police source told Interfax that when New Year’s revelers in Makhachkala began to set off firecrackers, unknown attackers “killed a senior sergeant of the patrol-sentry service who was guarding the home of the head of one of the district police offices, after which they escaped from the scene of the crime.”

Kavkazky Uzel reported on December 31 that Magomed Gadzhimagomedov, a police captain and member of the Makhachkala police department’s extra-departmental protection directorate, was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Dagestani capital on the evening of December 30. Interfax, citing the Makhachkala police department’s press service, reported that Gadzhimagomedov was waiting for a taxi on a sidewalk in Makhachkala and holding packages containing food and New Year’s gifts for children when someone in a passing car fired a Makarov pistol at him from a point-blank range. According to ITAR-TASS, the incident took place in a busy area. “It cannot be ruled out that the criminals did not know the policeman, but shot him simply because he was in uniform,” the news agency reported. “There are also grounds to assume that members of the extremist underground, whose backbone was destroyed this year [2006], are connected to this murder.”

Citing Interfax, Kavkazky Uzel reported on December 29 that the body of Magomed Saidmagomedov, the imam of a mosque located on Ulitsa Abrikosovaya in Mackhachkala, was found with gunshot wounds inside the mosque that morning. According to the Makhachkala police department’s press service, the imam was murdered sometime after morning prayers.

Kavkaz Center reported that the Ulitsa Abrikosovaya mosque was where officers from the Sovietsky district police department had detained a young man when the imam tipped them off after the Friday prayer on December 8. “It later emerged that the imam did not like the way the young man prayed,” the Chechen rebel website reported. “He called the police and said that he [the young man] was probably a ‘Wahhabi.’ The man, identified as Nadyr Magomedov, died after being subjected to brutal torture on December 9. The condition of his body showed how brutally he had been tortured. Shocked by the brutality of the police, a large number of people, including relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, staged a rally outside the office of the Sovietsky district police department on December 11, demanding an explanation for the killing.”

On December 19, the head of the education department of Dagestan’s Untsukulsky district, Magomed Ibragimov, was killed when an explosion destroyed his car. According to police, Ibragimov’s Niva automobile blew up in the village of Untsukul, killing him instantly. ITAR-TASS reported that “unknown persons” had placed an explosive device in the car and that law-enforcement bodies did not rule out that the attack was connected to his professional activities.

While it is not certain that all of the latest killings were the work of Dagestan’s Islamic militants, the police have been the main targets of the radicals, who, while suffering setbacks last year, reportedly remain active. Indeed, Major-General Sergei Solodovnikov, deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for the Southern Federal District, conceded in October 2006 that “four bandit groups” continued to operate in Dagestan’s mountainous areas near the border with Azerbaijan and in the districts of Buinaksk, Makhachkala and Khasavyurt. Solodovnikov identified Rappani Khalilov, who was a close associate of the late Shamil Basaev, as the Dagestani rebel network’s leader, and stressed that the social and economic situation in the republic precluded a complete victory over the rebels (Chechnya Weekly, November 2, 2006). Solodovnikov’s comments followed the appearance of a video by leaders of the Sharia Jamaat, the underground Islamist group that killed dozens of Dagestani police officers over several years, threatening both Dagestani policemen and Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov. The Sharia Jamaat leaders also appealed to the republic’s Muslims for support (Chechnya Weekly, October 26, 2006).

Earlier, at the start of 2006, the Sharia Jamaat had issued a statement warning “all police and other hypocrites” to “fear Allah and revenge by Muslims.” The group also addressed Muslims who had not joined its ranks, stating that “the destruction of the opponents of Sharia is a forced but necessary measure prescribed by the Koran and the Sunnah” and that “the war against the infidel will continue until all power belongs to Allah” (Chechnya Weekly, January 12, 2006). A short time later, the Sharia Jamaat issued a statement denouncing Dagestan’s Spiritual Board of Muslims, which represents the republic’s official Muslim clergy, as hypocrites who have long been “carrying out a war against the Koran” (Chechnya Weekly, January 26, 2006).

Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev, for his part, claimed in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on December 27 that his administration had gained the upper hand in its fight against Islamic militants during 2006. “This year, I believe, we have managed to radically change the situation in our fight against religious extremism and terrorism in the republic,” he told the radio station. “Various opinion polls conducted by people from Moscow, from the Southern Federal District, confirm this. [These are] not only our observations and statistics. There have been 66% fewer terrorist acts. There have also been fewer people and policemen wounded.” Aliev said that Dagestani authorities had managed to “shift the accent” in the fight against “Wahhabis” from “the prominent use of force to preventive measures.” He added: “We respect all religions in Dagestan – Islam, Christianity and Judaism. They co-exist and cooperate normally. We support traditional Islam…The clergy has made a great contribution to this.”

Aliev said that many young people have been lured into the ranks of the radical Muslims by promises of a better life. “Our task is to prevent this extremism, to pay more attention to young people, to create jobs,” Aliev said. “We respect Islam, we have supported Dagestan’s traditional Islam, but Dagestan is a secular republic, it must not go along the path of Islamization.”