Four people, including three police officers, were killed in an attack yesterday on a police checkpoint in Ingushetia, not far from the southern Russian republic’s border with Chechnya. The terrorist raid, which took place near the village of Galakshi, was reportedly carried out by ten to fifteen armed men, one of whom was killed. A local Interior Ministry spokesman reported that the attackers retreated into Chechnya (Reuters, May 3). Russian television reports quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the attackers appeared to be dressed like “Wahhabis”–the Saudi-based Islamic fundamentalist sect which has some adherents, including armed ones, in the Caucasus. According to press reports, the Russian military deployed two helicopters to track down the attackers (NTV, RTR, May 3).
The attack follows a visit by Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin last week to the Stavropol region of Russia, which also borders Chechnya. Stepashin’s visit there was accompanied by new steps by Moscow to tighten the border between Chechnya and its neighbors–with the purpose of preventing raids by terrorists and criminals from its territory. The region has seen numerous attacks like yesterday’s, as well as kidnappings. During his visit to Stavropol, Stepashin promised to send more troops to fortify the border and to have two helicopters patrolling the border at all times (see the Monitor, April 30).
Following yesterday’s attack on the Ingush-Chechen border, Stepashin said that attackers were Chechen “bandits” who were angered by Moscow’s decision to tighten the border. The interior minister, who said that he had already discussed the incident with Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, said that the attackers would “undoubtedly be given a proper rebuff.” He also called for joint action by Russian and Chechen law enforcement authorities against Chechen-based terrorists (Russian agencies, May 3).
President Boris Yeltsin recently appointed Stepashin as a first deputy prime minister who will be in charge, among other things, of coordinating the government’s policies towards Russia’s regions and ethnic issues. Stepashin said in a television interview on May 2 that closing the administrative border between Chechnya and its neighbors completely was “historically impossible and politically and economically undesirable,” but that the border would be closed to “gangsters, criminals and abductors.” Stepashin also said he had sent a letter to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov calling for a resumption of close relations between the interior ministries of Chechnya and Russia.
Stepashin said he was confident that Gennady Shpigun, the special Russian Interior Ministry envoy who was kidnapped earlier this year, would be released, but that ransom demands have been rejected. Shpigun, he said, is now being held on Russian territory outside Chechnya (NTV, May 2).
LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS COMPOUNDED BY RIFT IN RULING PARTY.