The level of terrorist violence in Dagestan, which was already high, increased precipitously over the last week with a series of large-scale bombings and assassinations. The authorities, however, scored an apparent success on July 6, when security forces reportedly killed the leader of the republic’s armed Islamist insurgency.
Russian Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov told Itar-Tass that Rasul Makasharipov, head of the Jennet organization and its successor group, the Sharia Jamaat, was killed along with a member of the group, Shamil Kebedov, in a special operation on Gazhiev Street in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. A police source told Interfax that Makasharipov, a.k.a. “Muslim,” committed suicide during the commando raid by detonating a grenade. According to the police, relatives of Makasharipov identified his body and his fingerprints matched those on file. In January, the Dagestani branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that Makasharipov’s body was among a group of gunmen killed in a shootout with security forces, but he later posted a statement on the Kavkazcenter website saying that rumors of his death were “exaggerated” (see Chechnya Weekly, January 26).
The shootout in Makhachkala capped several days of terrorist violence in Dagestan. On July 5, two police officers were killed and at least three injured when a bomb exploded near a police post on Aeroportskoe Shosse (Airport Highway) in Makhachkala’s Kirovsky district, which is on the Dagestani capital’s northern outskirts. NTV television reported that according to preliminary findings, the bomb was hidden in bushes in front of the post and detonated by remote control. Itar-Tass quoted law-enforcement sources as saying that eyewitnesses had seen two young people run up to the post’s stairway and place an object there and run away, soon after which the explosion took place. Earlier in the day, two large bombs were discovered near the Russian Drama Theater in Makhachkala and defused.
The bombing of the police post followed an even larger terrorist attack – the July 1 bombing of a public bathhouse in Makhachkala that killed eleven Russian servicemen. Twenty-seven other people, including nine servicemen and at least 12 civilians, among them an infant, were also wounded in the attack. RIA Novosti reported on July 2 that many of those wounded in the blast were in grave condition. The blast, which took place as three GAZ-53 trucks carrying servicemen pulled up to a public bathhouse in the Dagestani capital, was caused by two explosive devices that had been placed between the hot and cold water pipes leading from a boiler into the bathhouse. The bombs were apparently detonated by remote control. The eleven men who were killed and the servicemen who were wounded in the attack were reportedly commandos from the Federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops who had been assigned to Dagestan two weeks earlier to carry out special “preventive” operations.
On July 2, the Sharia Jamaat claimed responsibility for the previous day’s bombing. The separatist Kavkazcenter website posted a statement by the group that read: “Praise Allah, on 1 July in the city of Shamilkal (formerly Makhachkala) special sub-units of the Islamic Jamaat of Dagestan ‘Sharia’ carried out a successful combat operation against the Russian kafir-occupiers from the so-called Moscow spetsnaz. According to our information, 12 kafirs were destroyed and 25 wounded, [and] three trucks were put out commission. We warn all Russian occupiers coming to Dagestan in order to carry out their punitive and combat ‘actions’: our land will burn under your feet; you will soak our soil with your blood! The more we destroy you, the closer we will be to our God, and we will do everything possible to give him satisfaction! Don’t think that your punitive missions, the forays of your so-called ‘spetsnaz’ and ‘squadrons’ will pass without a response and consequences for you, your families, wives and children, even if you manage to go back alive. At a session of the Shura of the ‘Sharia’ Jamaat of Dagestan, in accordance with the order of [Chechen rebel leader] Emir Abdul-Khalim [Sadulaev] about carrying combat actions over to Russian territory, a decision was taken about landing Dagestani mujahideen on the territory of Moscow for carrying out a series of sabotage operations in the Russian capital under the code-name ‘Stab the Pig in the Heart’. Allah-u-Akhbar! We will come after you in Russia and get you in your own homes! If required, we will attack you and destroy you with your children and wives, as you attack us and murder ours.”
Also on July 2, Dagestan’s leader, State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov, cut short his visit to Kaliningrad, where he was attending a session of the Federal State Council as well as the region’s 750th anniversary celebrations. After flying back to Makhachakala, Magomedov visited several hospitals to see some of those wounded in the July 1 attack. Kavkazky Uzel reported on July 4 that the Dagestani leader’s visit to the hospitals was his first appearance in public since June 15, when presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak denied rumors that Magomedov was going to lose his job.
On July 4, Mayak radio quoted Magomedov as telling a meeting of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s board that an underground terrorist network was trying to “discredit the republican and federal bodies of power and ultimately to show the whole world that the local authorities are failing to keep the situation under control.” Magomedov added that the blame for the attack “should be borne by everyone, including carelessness by unit commanders who have been unable to guarantee the security of their subordinates.” Following that meeting, the republic’s Interior Minister, Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, announced that the head of the Interior Ministry’s Makhachkala department, Yusup Abdullaev, and the heads of the Interior Ministry offices in the capital’s Sovietsky, Leninsky and Kirovsky districts had been removed from their posts. Magomedtagirov reported that 68 terrorist attacks had been carried out in Dagestan since the beginning of the year, more than 40 of them in Makhachkala. However, Kommersant on July 5 suggested that the firings were simply aimed at appeasing the federal Interior Ministry, “as it demands decisive measures from the local police.” The newspaper predicted that those removed from office would get new high-level jobs.
Nezavisimaya gazeta on July 4 quoted Sergei Arutyunov, head of the North Caucasus section of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Ethnography Institute, as saying that the Chechen and Dagestani “Wahhabis” were “united and in solidarity,” that their collaboration was “in good working order” and that their methods were similar – targeting the police, army and bureaucracy. But he also noted that “terrorists” in the North Caucasus were “not necessarily extremists.” “You also have here those who are fighting, so to speak, ‘for themselves’, who are carrying out blood feuds, because both the Dagestani and the Chechen police continue to engage in mayhem and a considerable proportion of local officials are deeply corrupt,” Arutyunov told the newspaper. “And when people encounter acts of mayhem and lawlessness, not seeing any other way, they start to take revenge for injuries inflicted on them. That explains their choice of targets.”