On February 6, unknown attackers fired automatic weapons and grenade launchers at the home of Khusein Medov, the head of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov’s personal bodyguards. An anonymous source in Ingushetia’s “power structures” told Kavkazky Uzel that the attack took place on the evening of February 5 at Medov’s home in Nazran’s Nasyr-Kortsky municipal district and that the attackers had approached the home in a car and escaped after firing on it. There were no reports of any fatalities or injuries in the attack. On February 4, bomb disposal experts defused a large improvised explosive device on the Caucasus federal highway. “The bomb was made by hand out of an artillery shell and was furnished with a mechanical timer,” a law-enforcement source told Kavkazky Uzel.
The attacks followed the announcement by the operational anti-terrorist headquarters in Ingushetia on February 3 that it was lifting the “counter-terrorist operation zone,” which was declared for several regions in the republic on January 25. The cities of Nazran and Magas, the village of Barsuki and the environs of the village of Nesterovskaya were originally included in the “counter-terrorist operation zone,” which was subsequently expanded to the villages of Troitskaya and Nasyr-Kort. The Ingushetian branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had justified the declaration of a “counter-terrorist operation zone” on the basis of information it said it had received about plans by the “gangster underground” to carry out bombings and “attacks against administrative buildings” and to provoke clashes with the police. However, the fact that the planned site for the January 26 demonstration was included in the “counter-terrorist operation zone” led some observers to suggest that the real aim of declaring such a zone was to foil the protest (Chechnya Weekly, January 31).
Whatever the case, the stepped up anti-terrorist measures apparently failed to shut down insurgent operations. Three policemen and a passerby were wounded in an attack by gunmen in Nazran on February 3. A policeman was wounded when a police post in Nazran came under fire on February 2, Kavkazky Uzel reported.
Meanwhile, security forces continue to take actions that are more likely to strengthen the insurgents than to weaken them. On February 1, FSB officers in Nazran shot a 21-year-old resident, Yusup Chapanov, in the back as he was returning from Friday prayers at a mosque. In a report published on February 3, Prague Watchdog correspondent Ruslan Elmurzaev quoted relatives of Chapanov as saying at his February 2 funeral that as far as they knew, the victim had been mistaken for a man on the federal wanted list. Chapanov’s relatives said they intend to seek justice through all the channels open to them. “We didn’t spend 21 years looking after him and bringing him up so that someone could kill him by mistake,” Magomed, the slain man’s uncle, told Elmurzaev. “For us it’s important that those responsible are punished, so that ‘mistakes’ of this kind in Ingushetia are not repeated.”
On January 30, Russian soldiers near the village of Surkhakhi in Ingushetia’s Nazran district opened fire on a car that Ramzan Nalgiev and Dzhabrail Mutsolgov were driving, after which they blocked the road with armored vehicles and blew up the young men’s car. The FSB subsequently claimed the two were wanted terrorists—a claim that relatives of the victims categorically denied (Chechnya Weekly, January 31). Prague Watchdog noted similar incidents that have taken place in Ingushetia over the last year. One took place last November, when a six-year-old boy in the Sunzhensky district village of Chemulga was shot to death during a special operation, after which Russian soldiers placed a sub-machine gun next to the boy’s corpse (Chechnya Weekly, November 15, 2007). Another happened in the town of Karabulak last September, when FSB officers shot a young man in the town of Karabulak and then, according to eyewitnesses, placed a grenade in his hand (Chechnya Weekly, September 6, 2007).
“So great is the anger caused by the Russian military among the local population that when on February 1 the Russian special services tried to seize a young man and abduct him, the Ingush men present at the scene immediately attacked the heavily-armed soldiers with their bare fists and took the man back,” Prague Watchdog wrote. The website noted that according to Mashr, an Ingush human rights group, there have been 160 abductions and around 600 murders in Ingushetia since 2002—very high figures for a republic whose population is only 480,000.
As two Russian human rights campaigners and experts on the North Caucasus, Tanya Lokshina and Eliza Musaeva, noted in an interview conducted by the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus last October and recently published on its website (Peaceinthecaucasus.org), such actions serve to build support for Ingushetia’s insurgency.
Lokshina, who heads the Demos Center for Information and Research, a Moscow-based human rights think-tank, said Ingushetia’s civilian population is caught in a vicious circle. “Let’s say that rebels organize an attack,” she said. “The next day, security forces respond to this attack by conducting a special operation. Sometimes these operations are conducted jointly by the local police and federal forces, but in many cases local police are excluded. During these operations, almost as a rule, civilians are grossly mistreated. As a result, the public has developed sympathy for the rebels. Not because they actually support the insurgency, but because on a human level they sympathize with the victims of federal forces. Siding with the rebels has become the civilians´ way to protest. This is particularly true in the case of the young people. There is a growing level of sympathy for the insurgents in Ingushetia, among the younger generations. Probably partially also because young men are the main targets of these counter-terrorist operations.”
Musaeva, who is a consultant for the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and previously headed the Memorial human rights center’s Ingush-Chechen branch, concurred. Ingush, she said, are siding with the insurgents “not because they are sympathizing with radical or extremist ideology, but because they feel powerless to do anything else in response to violations committed against them and their loved ones by the security forces.”
Meanwhile, on January 31, Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin condemned the declaration of a “counter-terrorist operation zone” in Ingushetia and called for a “legal analysis” of actions taken by police in breaking up the January 26 opposition rally in Nazran, Prague Watchdog reported. According to the independent Ingushetiya.ru website, Lukin also said that Ingushetian authorities had no legal grounds to detain journalists who were attempting to cover the protest (Chechnya Weekly, January 31).