Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 93

Against the backdrop of the Kaspiisk terrorist attack, a trial begins today (May 13) in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol Krai, of seventeen men belonging to what investigators are calling a “Wahhabi underground,” which allegedly plotted to seize power in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria last summer. Citing information from investigators, Izvestia’s website reported yesterday that this underground Islamist organization is connected with radical Chechen field commanders, financed from abroad and preparing “new actions no less audacious” than the May 9 bombing in Kaspiisk. The group, it reported, was headed by Khyzyr Salpagarov and Aslan and Ruslan Bekkaev, two brothers who were trained in Khattab’s training camps in Chechnya and had contact with Middle Eastern “sponsors.” Numbering up to 500 fighters, the group used an abandoned farm on the Bechasyn Plateau–located along the border between Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia–as its base, and stockpiled weapons, uniforms, communications equipment and medical supplies. It allegedly planned to start its operation by seizing an administrative building in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, after which it would issue demands and retreat into the mountains with hostages, having first mined the approach to the Bechasyn Plateau in order to slow down the federal forces’ response. If the situation became critical, the rebels allegedly planned to retreat into Georgia.

The putative goal of the Wahhabi group was to demonstrate decisiveness to its Arab sponsors and draw federal forces away from Chechnya, thereby giving the Chechen rebels a chance to regroup. The operation, planned for the summer of 2001, was supposed to take place concurrently with an attack on the Georgian region of Abkhazia by the Chechen rebel field commander Ruslan Gelaev, operating from the Pankisi Gorge on Georgia’s border with Chechnya. Gelaev was then to move his fighters from Abkhazia into Kabardino-Balkaria to help the rebel attack there.

According to Izvestia, the alleged plan to overthrow the governments of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia was thwarted last June, when the FSB captured Khyzyr Salpagarov and four armed followers. Another thirteen members of Salpagarov’s unit were captured by Georgian border guards and eventually extradited to Russia. The FSB, meanwhile, claims that the Bekkaev brothers and several dozen of their fighters are now hiding out in Georgia (Izvestia.ru, May 12).