Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 217

A box containing an explosive device was discovered and defused in a market in the North Caucasus city of Pyatigorsk. The box, which contained 5.5 kilograms of plastic explosive, was found in the “Lyudmila” market of the city, which is one of the largest markets in the North Caucasus, one of Pyatigorsk’s most crowded spots and a famous resort. The bomb was set to go off at 3 PM, the market’s most crowded time. Had it gone off, the results would have been devastating, given the fact that quantity of plastic explosive found was the equivalent of 55 kilograms of TNT (Russian agencies, November 19).

Investigators thus far have refrained from theorizing publicly about who may have been behind the thwarted terrorist attack. It is likely, however, that Chechen rebel fighters or their allies planned it. Indeed, while Moscow has been unable to prove that Chechen rebels were involved in the September 1999 bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which served as one of the pretexts for the introduction of Russian troops into Chechnya, or in the August 8 bombing of a pedestrian underpass at Moscow’s Pushkin Square, investigators were able to apprehend, try and imprison the alleged perpetrators of the major terrorist acts committed in the North Caucasus in recent years, including the 1996 railway station bombings in the towns of Pyatigorsk and Mineralniye Vody, the bombing of the bus terminal in the town of Nalchik that same year and the bombing of an apartment building in the town of Buinnaksk in 1999.

In Chechnya, meanwhile, ethnic Chechens accused of collaboration with the federal authorities and thus considered traitors continue to be murdered. Late last week, rebel fighters shot and killed the head of the village of Mesker-yurt and his deputy, and severely wounded the head of the village of Bachi-yurt (Kommersant, November 18). The rebels have in fact been carrying out reprisals against alleged collaborators since the start of the latest Chechen war. Both local officials and ordinary Chechens loyal to the Russian authorities have been targets: About a month ago, for example, a bomb was detonated near an office in Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, where Russian passports were being handed out to local residents. A number of women have been targeted for reprisals–something which earlier was unthinkable in Chechnya, where Muslin traditions are strong. As local inhabitants in Chechnya recently explained to the Monitor’s correspondent, men are simply afraid to occupy dangerous posts.

Attempts on the life of Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s provisional administration, are occurring on an almost weekly basis. Yesterday a motorcade accompanying Kadyrov was ambushed by Chechen rebels. The lead car, containing three of Kadyrov’s bodyguards and a driver, was fired on from bushes lining the road. The passengers were saved thanks only to the driver’s skills (Russian agencies, November 19).

Meanwhile, Bislan Gantemirov, deputy head of Chechnya’s provisional administration, was questioned on November 16 about a November 12 battle between members of his so-called “Gantemirov militia” and federal troops, during which several people were killed and wounded. According to Gantemirov, the battle started when members of a Russian OMON special police force broke into quarters where members of his militia were sleeping and opened fire without warning. The militia members did not know who was attacking them and returned fire.

Gantemirov created his militia in the autumn of 1999, after then Russian President Boris Yeltsin freed him from jail, where he had been serving a sentence for allegedly stealing funds during his 1995-96 tenure as Djohar’s mayor. Gantemirov’s militia served alongside Russian troops in the storming of the capital. More recently, however, Gantemirov’s troops have turned into a de facto “third force.” According to some reports, Gantemirov’s forces attacked a column of Moscow OMON troops earlier this year.