Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 20

Dagestan’s minister of nationalities, information and external affairs, Zagir Arukhov, was killed by an explosion in his apartment building in Makhachkala on May 20 after arriving home from work. RIA Novosti reported on May 21 that his bodyguard, Serif Minafov, was badly wounded in the blast and died on the way to the hospital. Four children were wounded in the blast and hospitalized, the news agency reported, citing Dagestan’s Interior Ministry. The Associated Press reported that a Makhachkala police spokeswoman, Marina Rasulova, had earlier said that the explosion killed two women, then that the two dead victims were Arukhov and a woman.

Kavkazky Uzel reported on May 21 that the device that caused the blast, which had the force of seven to ten kilograms of TNT equivalent, might have been placed in a plastic bucket that in turn was put in an electrical panel in the apartment building’s entranceway. However, Kommersant reported on May 23 that investigators had not yet determined exactly where the bomb had been placed. Soon after the blast, Dagestani Emergency Ministry personnel evacuated 60 of the building’s residents using a fire escape.

Dozens of Dagestani police and security officials have been killed over the last several years. Arukhov’s predecessor in the post of minister of nationalities, information and external affairs, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, was killed in August 2003 by a bomb planted on the roof of his car.

On May 21, the Chechen separatist Kavkazcenter website published a statement by the “information department” of the Sharia Jamaat, the underground Islamist group in Dagestan headed by Rasul Makasharipov, claiming that one of its “special units” had killed Arukhov. Referring to Arukhov as the “the main ideologist of the struggle against Islam and the establishment of Sharia in the Caucasus,” the statement claimed that he had been recruited by the KGB during his university years and had been elevated to the rank of colonel in the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Kavkazky Uzel on May 21 noted that Arukhov was a well-known researcher of contemporary Islam whose doctoral dissertation was on the subject of “Jihad and politics in the Islamic conception of law and order,” and the author of a number of books, including “Wahhabism and the clergy in the political structure of Saudi society: problems of interrelations of government and opposition” and “Extremism in contemporary Islam”. He was a senior research fellow with Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Ethnopolitical Research and deputy head of Dagestan State University’s Center for Islamic Studies of the North Caucasus. He was also a member of the regional political council of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Still, by no means all observers believe that Islamic extremists assassinated Arukhov, even with the Sharia Jamaat’s claim of responsibility. Indeed, concerning the Sharia Jamaat statement, Kommersant on May 23 quoted Dagestani Interior Ministry Major Said Aliev as saying: “They are simply reacting to what is going on, claiming responsibility all the time. Including in situations when what took place may not have been the handiwork of the militants.” Arukhov, unlike his predecessor Gusaev, who was also assassinated, did not carry out “conspicuous anti-extremist operations,” Kommersant reported. According to the newspaper, the Dagestani prosecutor’s office is taking “more seriously” the theory that Arukhov was the victim of a power struggle over his ministerial post, given that he is believed to have been appointed to his it thanks to the efforts of the special services, while “the republic’s ethnic elites were insistently lobbying their own contenders for this position.” Arukhov was “considered the most loyal member” of the team of Dagestani State Council head Magomedali Magomedov. And the post of minister of nationalities policy was considered “a key one” within Dagestan’s political structure, Kommersant reported.

Similarly, Novaya gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov noted in the bi-weekly’s May 23 edition that according to Dagestan’s new constitution, the republic will elect its first president in 2006. According to Izmailov, Gadzhi Makhachev, a State Duma deputy who once led the “semi-criminal ‘Avar movement'”, and Said Amriov, Makhachkala’s mayor, are considered likely to be the main presidential candidates. At the same time, Arukhov had the ear of the federal authorities, including the office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District and the Kremlin administration. “And precisely for this reason he was unwelcome to people who not only hold high office, but who also embody the criminal past and present of the republic’s leadership,” Izmailov wrote.

For its part, Nezavisimaya gazeta on May 23 quoted a Dagestani government source as saying that the Arukhov’s murder may have been connected to that fact that he was one of the main organizers of an economic forum scheduled to take place on May 26 in Makhachkala. Participants in the forum will include not only representatives from the Southern Federal District and other Russian regions, but investors from Turkey, Germany, France and Italy, among other countries. Arukhov’s assassination may have been an attempt by opponents of Magomedali Magomedov to discredit his administration. “There is another version,” the source told the newspaper. “Crime today is persistently meddling in government. And certainly there were claimants to Arukhov’s chair. Therefore it is entirely possible that Zagir’s death was not at all connected to his struggle against Wahhabism – it’s simply advantageous for the law-enforcement structures to put forward that version. Let them dig deeper.”