Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 17

Writing in the no. 29 issue of Novaya Gazeta, award-winning war correspondent Alla Politkovskaya reports the brutal murder of three children and an adult which took place on April 17 in the village of Nizhny Aleroi in Kurchaloevsk District. Journalist Maura Reynolds also investigated this incident for The Los Angeles Times (April 24 issue). A herdsman, Khozh-Akhmed Asultanov, his 10-year-old son, Islam, and his nephews, Shamkhan and Shakhed, ages 13 and 14, were all summarily executed by a mysterious armed unit. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky has asserted that they were murdered on orders of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. A local woman, Kheda Muskhadzhieva, with whom Reynolds spoke, vigorously contested this claim: “How could it have been rebels? We saw the armored personnel vehicle arrive. We heard shots in the field. We just thought they were trying to scare us. We never thought they would shoot children.” Muskhadzhieva filmed the bodies, with their personal documents spread out on their chests, and then brought the videotape to the office of Memorial in Ingushetia.

Politkovskaya provides evidence to support her contention that the three children and the adult were executed by a special flying unit-whose members speak both Chechen and Russian–headed up by a GRU (Russian military intelligence) lieutenant colonel employing the pseudonym Kamenyuk and known to his own troops as “The Butcher.” “The real name of Kamenyuk-the-Butcher is known to us,” she remarks pointedly, “and we will hand it over to the General Procuracy.” The principal aim of Kamenyuk’s unit is to commit atrocities against Chechen civilians–atrocities which will then be blamed on the rebels and thus serve further to destabilize the situation in the republic. When a local pro-Moscow Chechen prosecutor attempted to enter the GRU base to investigate soil samples concerning the killings, she notes, he was contemptuously turned away.

The no. 16 (April 19-25). issue of the pro-democracy weekly, Obshchaya Gazeta, also contains information on these flying death squads. In an interview originally published in Ichkeria (no. 2, 2001), Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov comments: “The federals themselves say that there is a special battalion (the first battalion, 22nd brigade of the GRU) where 70 percent are Chechens and 30 percent Russians. On this battalion has been laid the task to sow enmity between the rebels and the populace.”