Eyewitnesses Say Ingushetia Attackers Were Mostly Locals

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 37

While the numbers are still preliminary, Russian news agencies early on June 23 quoted a source in Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry as saying that 57 people were killed in attacks launched simultaneously by armed guerrillas across Ingushetia. The attacks, which began on the evening of June 21 and lasted for several hours, targeted Interior Ministry headquarters and other buildings in Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest city, along with police headquarters in a number of other towns.

According to the Ingushetian Interior Ministry source, the 57 people killed in the attacks included 21 local Interior Ministry employees, 11 employees of Kursk Oblast’s Internal Affairs Department, eight Federal Security Service (FSB) employees, four soldiers, two employees of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry, two policemen from Samara Oblast, five employees of Ingushetia’s prosecutor’s office, and three employees of other Ingushetian government agencies. Among the dead were acting Ingush Interior Minister Abukar Kostoev; Mukharbek Buzurtanov; Nazran district prosecutor Belan Oziev; and an investigator in the republican prosecutor’s office, Timur Detogazov. The source said that another 23 police officers were wounded in the attacks (Interfax, RIA Novosti, June 23). According to one report, a number of civilians were also killed in the attacks, raising the death toll to at least 75 people, with dozens more injured. (Newsru.com, June 22)

Initial reports put the number of attackers at 200-300, but the Gzt.ru website on June 23 quoted “an informed source in the Russian power structures” as saying that up to 1,500 fighters participated in the raids, with at least 80 of them involved in the attack on the Interior Ministry building in Nazran alone. According to the website, some 20 other installations around the republic were attacked. An unnamed source close to the investigation now under way into the attacks told Interfax that the goal of the attackers, who were outfitted in spetsnaz special forces uniforms and ski-masks, was to kill law-enforcement personnel. (Interfax, June 23)

Reports on the attackers’ origins have been contradictory. A spokesman for the Ingushetian branch of the FSB, Aleksei Baigushkin, said that foreigners, including Turks and Algerians, were involved, but that Chechens formed the attacking group’s “backbone.” Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, Vladimir Yakovlev, said that prior to the attacks, the fighters had trickled into Ingushetia from neighboring Chechnya and North Ossetia. An unnamed official in North Ossetia’s Interior Ministry, however, categorically denied Yakovlev’s assertion, saying, “We don’t have such fighters”. (Newsru.com, June 22)

An Ingushetian traffic policeman who was briefly detained by some of the fighters told the independent Ingushetiya.ru website that all of them spoke Ingush and that while their faces were covered by masks, he could tell by their voices that they were young. The traffic policeman said that after he was released, fighters who were also Ingush stopped him several times on the way into Nazran. “They said that they were getting revenge for murders and kidnappings of their friends,” the traffic policeman told the website. “And that they were killing employees of [the Ingushetian police’s] criminal investigation [department], spetsnaz and OMON [special police units] for helping the Russian special services”. (Ingushetiya.ru, June 22)

Likewise, Rossiiskaya Gazeta cited local residents as saying that the attackers were Ingush, “which partially refutes the version about the invasion from Chechnya,” and quoted a Russian special services source as denying that they had also crossed over from North Ossetia. “According to our source, most likely no one came from anywhere,” the government newspaper reported. “In the evening, people simply put on camouflage clothing, took weapons out of hiding places and went out to the streets to fight”. (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, June 23)

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the raids, Alu Alkhanov, the pro-Moscow Chechen administration’s interior minister, who is favored to win Chechnya’s presidential election in August, said that the attacks were planned by Chechen separatist field commander Shamil Basayev and supported by Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov (Moscow Times, June 23). Maskhadov’s representative in Europe, Akhmed Zakaev, said Maskhadov neither led nor planned the attacks in Ingushetia. However, he said he was certain that “units of Chechen volunteers” took part in the attacks, which he said were prompted by the “lawlessness and destruction of Russian forces within Ingushetia”. (Reuters, June 22)

A Nazran resident told Ingushetiya.ru that he had spoken to some of the fighters involved in the attack on the Interior Ministry building, who identified themselves as Ingush. They claimed they had “persuaded” Basayev to carry out the attacks in order to “teach a lesson” to the Interior Ministry, FSB and other special services units that have reportedly been involved in “extra-judicial punishment” and kidnappings in Ingushetia. “I am not a fighter,” one of the attackers said. “But my brother was kidnapped and I haven’t been able to find his body…for a year already, so I went up into the mountains to Shamil Basayev. There are hundreds like me. For the most part, it’s Ingush who are fighting here” (Ingushetiya.ru, June 22). It is worth noting that Basayev claimed responsibility for the failed bid to assassinate Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov on April 6 using a suicide car bomber. A communiqué from Basayev accused Zyazikov, a former FSB general, of responsibility for more than 100 disappearances and 50 murders in Ingushetia over the last year. (Kavkazcenter.com, April 12)

Putin held an emergency Kremlin meeting on June 22, during which he ordered his military and law-enforcement chiefs to “seek and destroy” those who carried out the attacks in Ingushetia and said that those who can be captured “must be taken alive and tried in court.” Putin later flew to the Ingush capital of Magas, where he told President Zyazikov that federal authorities are “not doing enough to defend the republic”. (Moscow Times, June 23)

–Charles Gurin