Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 35

The Sunday Times reported on September 10 that fears were growing over the fate of Elina Ersenoeva, a young Chechen journalist who was reportedly forced to marry Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev last fall and was abducted at gunpoint, apparently by pro-Moscow Chechen security forces, in Grozny in August, just weeks after Basaev’s death. The British newspaper quoted her mother, Rita Ersenoeva, as saying she was “terrified” that her daughter’s captors had already killed her. “I fear that the men who took her have done terrible things to her,” she said. “She had no choice but to marry Basaev. Now that she is gone I have lost hope. I have lost a golden child.” Rita Ersenoeva told the Sunday Times that she has received anonymous calls warning her not to make a fuss and that she fears that her daughter’s captors will come back for her two brothers, aged 15 and 22.

According to the British newspaper, Elina Ersenoeva was approached last autumn by Kheda Saidulaeva, the wife of the late separatist leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who was a distant relative of Ersenoeva. Saidulaeva told her that she had been chosen to marry a commander known as Ali-Khan Abu Yazidov and that if she refused, her brothers’ lives would be in danger. “On November 30 Elina was approached by an envoy of Abu Yazidov,” the Sunday Times reported. “The man ordered her to get into his car. He blindfolded her and drove her to a house on the outskirts of Grozny. She was led into a room where she came face to face with Basaev.” She was forced to marry the rebel warlord, whom she saw on a few other occasions for several days at a time before he was killed in July of this year. It was only after his death that she revealed to her family that she had been married to Basaev.

The FSB questioned Elina Ersenoeva two weeks after Basaev’s death, but they accepted that she had been blackmailed into the marriage and brought no charges against her. On August 17, she was abducted at gunpoint as she and her aunt, Elza Astamirova, were on their way to work in Grozny. “Eight men with machine guns shoved us in and drove us away,” Astamirova told the Sunday Times. “They put sacks over our heads to stop us seeing where they were taking us. I was screaming with fear but they were just laughing. We ended up in a small room with bare walls. Elina was next to me. They let me go and kept her.”

On the day she was abducted, Elina telephoned her mother three times to say that she would be released that evening, but she has not been heard from since. The Sunday Times quoted her mother as saying that she fears her captors may have believed rumors that Basaev left behind a stash of millions of dollars and decided to torture her into disclosing its whereabouts. “To think that Basaev would share that information with her is absurd,” her mother said. “To think she lived all those months in fear to protect her family is very distressing. I can’t bear to think what they are doing to her.”