The head of Dagestan’s Novolak district administration, Arsen Khaidakov, was assassinated in Makhachkala on the evening of July 29. His death is the latest in a decade of political violence that has claimed many Dagestani officials and politicians.
Khaidakov, 39, was shot on the doorsteps of his house as he went to answer a call over the home’s intercom (RIA Novosti, July 29.) His relatives heard a series of muffled shots and then saw a VAZ sedan speed away. A Kalashnikov assault rifle was found near Khaidakov’s body. Police combed the city, but failed to locate the car (Dagestanskaya pravda, July 29.)
Khaidakov had been at the center of a political controversy for two months. In May the republican State Council, the top executive body in Dagestan, appointed Khaidakov, a prosperous businessman, to head Dagestan’s most volatile region. However, the Novolak district council preferred Myamma Bazmanov for the post (Gazeta, July 29). Local authorities had been looking for a solution to the standoff.
Shortly after Khaidakov’s murder, police turned up three pistols and two rifles Bazmanov’s apartment in Makhachkala (Gazeta, July 29.) Investigators claimed to have four suspects in the murder, but no arrests have been reported.
Dagestan is increasingly gaining an unwelcome reputation as the republic where political assassinations are common. Over the last several years, dozens of republican ministers, legislators, and mayors fell victim to hit men. In 2003, the Minister of Nationalities, Magomed-Salikh Gusayev, and a former Dagestani representative in the Russian State Duma, Nadir Khachilayev, were killed on the streets by still unidentified attackers. A sniper in Makhachkala wounded Gadzhi Makhachev, another Dagestani representative in the State Duma. Said Amirov, the mayor of Makhachkala and the strongman behind the aging Dagestani leader Magomedali Magomedov, has survived in 14 attacks on his life, including one that left him confined to a wheelchair. Investigators have solved few of these attacks.
One possible reason for such a high casualty rate among Dagestan’s officials is related to the republic’s status as one of the largest recipients of federal financial aid. The republican executives who manage these funds immediately become key power brokers in local politics, and the competition among them is fierce. Another possible explanation is related the republic’s unusually complex executive and legislative branches; ordinary citizens have very little say in electing their leaders. The lack of electoral accountability has allowed a few strongmen to hijack the decision-making process, making money and gun barrels the ultimate tools of persuasion.
Dagestan’s police are also frequent targets for assassins. Khaidakov’s murder followed a string of attacks on Dagestani police personnel and installations, which prompted police officials to suggest the existence of a determined criminal network that retaliates whenever its members are arrested (Vremya novostei, Trud, July 23.)
About 20 Dagestani police and intelligence officers were allegedly killed by members of the extremist groups Jennet (Paradise in Arabic) over the last two years (Gazeta, July 22). This group is thought to be linked to Rappani Khalilov, a Dagestani warlord fighting in Chechnya on the side of rebels, whom Makhachkala has accused of masterminding the May 9, 2002, bombing of a military parade in Kaspiisk, which claimed lives of more than 40 Russian servicemen and Dagestani civilians.
In the latest attacks attributed to Jennet, the chief of a Makhachkala suburban police precinct was shot to death and another man wounded on July 20 (RIA Novosti, July 21.) The next day, two powerful explosions rocked the heavily guarded riot-police headquarters in Makhachkala, killing one and wounding seven officers (NTV, July 23). Two days after that, an attacker threw a hand-grenade into the window of another Makhachkala police station, killing one police officer and wounding two others (Itar-Tass, July 24).
Despite a handful of arrests, police investigators believe that most Jennet members remain at large. After the latest attacks, Dagestan’s Interior Minister, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, asked journalists to not identify police officers in their articles, saying that investigators have found newspaper clippings with the names of police officials highlighted, during searches of criminal and extremist hideouts (Gazeta, July 22).