Government Forces Ramp Up Activities in Dagestan after Volgograd Attack

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 192

A controlled explosion of an IED confiscated in Dagestan, October 25 (Source: RIA Novosti)

On October 22, government forces deployed in Dagestan’s mountains were significantly reinforced when at least 500 servicemen arrived in the district of Untsukul. Government forces will reportedly also be sent to other districts in Dagestan’s mountainous region to improve the deteriorating security situation in the area. While Dagestani interior ministry spokesperson Fatina Ubaidatova told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that the reinforcements would provide safety for the locals, the latter expressed concern about the influx of the government forces into the area, which has experienced continuing abuses by police.

Earlier, on October 20, Dagestan’s Ministry of the Interior announced that 18 residents of the Untsukul district village of Gimry had joined the rebels. On October 21, the government introduced a counter-terrorist operation regime in the Kirov district of the city of Makhachkala, after which the police conducted massive searches, blocked roads and detained several persons. According to eyewitnesses, the police did not conceal that their large-scale activities were connected to the recent suicide bombing in the Russian city of Volgograd (kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 24). Massive searches and counter-terrorism operations were later conducted in other parts of Makhachkala (kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 26).

On October 25, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that the terrorists would not succeed in destabilizing the country and would receive lawful retribution for the attack in Volgograd. Russian interior ministry spokesperson Vladimir Markin confirmed that the police was looking in Dagestan for the organizers of the Volgograd terrorist attack, which took place on October 21, when a suspected female suicide bomber, 30-year-old Naida Asiyalova, blew herself up in a city bus, killing six people and injuring dozens of others (see EDM, October 25; ria.ru, October 25). Asiyalova came from the Dagestani village of Gunib, historically famous as one of the last bastions of Dagestani resistance to the Russian conquest in the 19th century.

Russian investigators concluded that Asiyalova had brought an improvised explosive device (IED) with the power of 500–600 grams of TNT directly from Dagestan. The Investigative Committee also alleged that the suspect initially visited two shopping centers in Volgograd, but because they were not crowded enough, she decided to target a packed bus. Investigators questioned dozens of people connected to Asiyalova through relatives and friends. Her boyfriend, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam, Dmitry Sokolov, is considered to be one of the primary suspects in the attack, but the Russian media appears to be downplaying this aspect about the bombing (http://www.sledcom.ru/actual/361541/).

Meanwhile, the security situation in Dagestan remains tense. On October 24, an IED detonated near the convoy of the troops of the Russian interior ministry. No one was hurt in the incident, which took place near the city of Khasavyurt, (http://www.interfax.ru/news.asp?id=336698). On October 24, an officer of the Investigative Committee was hospitalized with serious injuries when an explosion struck his car (http://www.interfax-russia.ru/South/news.asp?id=444941&sec=1672&p=2). On October 25, two suspected militants were killed by police in Khasavyurt. One serviceman was wounded in the incident. The suspects were reportedly carrying explosives equal to 100 kilograms of TNT in their car. The explosives and other pieces of ammunition were destroyed on the scene in a controlled explosion (http://ria.ru/incidents/20131025/972585880.html).

As a new security measure, the authorities ordered checks of passports of bus passengers at Makhachkala’s bus station. Asiyalova, the suspected Volgograd suicide bomber, reportedly traveled by scheduled bus service from Makhachkala to Moscow, but for an unknown reason decided to disembark in Volgograd. The authorities are now trying to establish another line of defense by introducing passport checks at the bus station (http://ria.ru/dag/20131022/971913675.html).

On October 25, Russia’s State Duma passed a law increasing the penalties for terrorism-related activities. The prison term for setting up a terrorist organization will now be up to 20 years in prison. Even receiving training for subversive activities will be punished with a prison term of up to ten years. Interestingly, the new legislation mandates a prison term for Russian citizens who act abroad as mercenaries against foreign states, if their actions contradict Russian national interests (http://ria.ru/society/20131025/972665703.html). Presumably, if Russian mercenaries abroad engage in subversive activities against foreign powers, but their actions do not contradict Russian national interests, they are exempt from criminal prosecution. This provision is apparently aimed at Russian citizens, mostly North Caucasians, who are fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

It is hard to assess the practicality of increasing prison terms for the members of the insurgency, since government forces in the North Caucasus normally refrain from taking prisoners, preferring instead to kill suspected militants on the spot. Another part of the legislation that is bound to receive substantial traction in society is the decision to compensate the material damage inflicted by the terrorists at the expense of their relatives and friends. Given the heavy dependence of the Russian courts on the executive branch, this means that the definition of who is a terrorist will be significantly expanded.

If the courts start to implement this part of the legislation widely, it will require increasing the general repression levels in the North Caucasus, because resistance will be significant. Given the North Caucasus realities of tight family ties and peer networks, nearly anyone can be traced to an insurgent. While it is supposed to be proven that the relative or friend benefited from terrorist activities materially, the Russian authorities today enjoy so much liberty during legal processes that they are unlikely to have any trouble tracing such ties even when there are none. While Moscow hopes such a collective punishment strategy will help it to bring the insurgency in the North Caucasus to its knees, the effect might prove to be the opposite, as fewer people in the region feel that remaining neutral will guarantee their safety.