Security forces killed five suspected militants in three separate apartment sieges during a two-day operation in Dagestan, the Associated Press (AP) reported on February 22. The news agency quoted Makhachkala Police Chief Shamil Guseinov as saying that one of the alleged militants was killed on February 21 when police and security forces mounted an assault on an apartment in the Dagestani capital where he had been holed up overnight. Four other militants were killed and three surrendered to the authorities on February 21 after standoffs at two other apartment buildings in Makhachkala. According to AP, Russian television networks cited unidentified security officials as saying that the victims may have been members of a local militant group whose leader was killed earlier this month.
The news agency reported that Russian television footage of the operation in Makhachkala showed a grenade blast, gunfire, a body on a rooftop and a woman in a headscarf descending a stairwell with her hands up, but noted that there was no way to immediately confirm the authorities’ account or their claim that the victims were militants. AP noted that the victim of a fatal police shooting in Dagestan last week was initially described by authorities as a militant, but police later acknowledged he was a security officer for a town mayor, while a wounded victim of the same shooting turned out to be a policeman.
Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 25 that Alibek Abunazarov, a resident of Dagestan kidnapped by unidentified security forces on February 17 and released on February 20, has appealed to human rights activists for help, saying the authorities are trying to force him into saying he participated in “illegal armed formations.”
Abunazarov’s wife recalled that the unidentified security officers came to their house on February 17 while she and her child were at home and her husband was out food shopping. The security agents then detained a neighbor, whom they later freed, but Abunazarov did not return home because, according to Kavkazky Uzel, he is a follower of Islam of a “nontraditional” type and went to a mosque.
Abunazarov said that when the security agents found him, they forced him to enter his home first so he would serve as a kind of “human shield” in case they were attacked. He told the Memorial human rights group that during a search of his house, his abductors knocked everything over, broke furniture and stole money, along with computer discs containing material of a “religious nature” and a mobile phone.
After he was taken away, Abunazarov’s relatives went to the police to try to locate him but were told that no such person was in custody. Meanwhile, one of his friends, Alil Amirkhanov, was also detained in Makhachkala. When Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s official human rights ombudsman called Dagestan’s public prosecutor, Igor Tkachev, on February 19 to ask about Abunazarov’s whereabouts, Tkachev revealed that he was being held at a Makhachkala district police headquarters. After Tatyana Kasatkina, acting director of Memorial, called Tkachev on February 20, Tkachev told her that Abunazarov had been released. According to Memorial, Abunazarov returned home seriously injured from beatings.
Abunazarov himself subsequently told Memorial that his abductors were Dagestanis and that they beat him with their fists and rifle butts and threatened him in an attempt to get him to admit he was an “illegal armed formation” member. The beating continued after he was brought to an unidentified building, where he was held for a day before being transferred to the police headquarters in Dagestan’s Kirovsky district and then to a jail where criminals and drug addicts were being held.
Kirov told Memorial that authorities are trying pressure his brother, a policeman, into quitting his job.
Meanwhile, Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 24 that authorities have charged the chief editor of the weekly Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, Nadira Isaeva, under the article of the Russian Criminal Code forbidding the incitement of national, race or religious hatred. The website noted that a Makhachkala court last November ordered the newspaper to issue a retraction and apology to the interior ministry for an article alleging that those seeking jobs in the ministry had to pay bribes for their posts. In July 2007, a criminal case was launched against Chernovik for allegedly supporting terrorism after it published an article that quoted the late Dagestani rebel leader Rappani Khalilov.