Former Guantanamo Inmate Reportedly Killed in Nalchik Shootout

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 26

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement that Ruslan Odizhev, a former inmate at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was killed on June 27 in a shootout with security agents in Kabardino-Balkaria, the Associated Press reported. According to the FSB, Odizhev was killed amid gunfire that erupted when agents tried to arrest him and another man. The agency also stated that Odizhev was a suspect in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk and that he took part in a 2005 attack on police and government facilities in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, which left 139 people dead, including 94 militants. The FSB called Odizhev the “spiritual leader” of the Yarmuk underground armed Islamist group. According to the AP, the regional prosecutor’s office said Odizhev was killed in Nalchik and that three homemade explosive devices were found on his body, and that he and a rebel named Anzor Tengizov were cornered by agents in the courtyard of an apartment building across the street from a mosque in the central part of the city. As the news agency noted, Odizhev was one of seven Russians released from Guantanamo Bay in 2004, and his whereabouts had recently been unknown. In March, Human Rights Watch charged that the seven had been tortured or harassed and abused by law enforcement agents since their return. One of them, Rasul Kudaev, is in custody in Nalchik on charges of participating in the 2005 attack.

Kavkazky Uzel, however, raised doubts about the FSB’s claims that Odizhev was a member of Yarmuk and involved in the apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. The website noted on June 28 that Yarmuk was a small group, consisting of no more than 20 people, and existed between November 2002 and April 2005, when it was essentially destroyed. During that period, however, Odizhev was in Guantanamo, from where he was sent back to Russia in February 2004. Kavkazky Uzel noted that Odizhev had not been accused earlier of involvement in the 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, even though he spent several months in a prison in Pyatigorsk after being sent back to Russia from Guantanamo. Indeed, the prosecutor’s office of the Southern Federal District subsequently ordered Odizhev and Kudaev freed after their return to Russia on the grounds that they had committed no crimes despite being captured and jailed by U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. According to Kavkazky Uzel, Odizhev was close to the ideologue of the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat, Anzor Astemirov, and did play a key role in the October 13, 2005 militant attack in Nalchik.