Magomed Yevloev died on August 31 from a gunshot wound sustained while in police custody. Police said he was shot after lunging for an officer’s gun, but his supporters and human rights groups say they do not believe that explanation.
As Kommersant reported on September 1, Yevloev’s death took place shortly after he was detained by police at the airport in Ingushetia’s capital Magas. The newspaper reported that it was first told about Yevloev’s detention by Czech human rights activist Hana Demetrova, who told the newspaper by telephone from Prague that Yevloev had been in the Czech Republic and had decided to fly home to Ingushetia and was expected to return to Prague on September 1. “We told him that it is dangerous to go there now, but he didn’t listen,” she told the newspaper. Ten minutes after she told Kommersant Yevloev had been detained at the airport in Magas, she called the newspaper back to report that he had been killed.
Kommersant reported that immediately after hearing from Demetrova, it contacted Ingush opposition leader Magomed Khazbiev, who had met Yevloev at the airport on August 31. “The jet flying from Moscow to Ingushetia that Magomed was onboard landed at the airport on schedule, at 13.30,” Khazbiev told the newspaper. “I and another dozen and a half people who came to meet Magomed went into the air terminal’s waiting room and, observing the taxiing airliner through the glass partition, waited for the passengers to start coming out.” Khazbiev said that another dozen and a half friends and relatives of Yevloev were waiting for him in cars outside the terminal. “We were afraid the authorities would try to detain Magomed and decided to take safety measures,” Khazbiev told Kommersant. “When the plane landed, Magomed sent me an SMS [text] message saying: ‘Zyazikov is flying with me’.” Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, was on the same flight as Yevloev.
According to Khazbiev, the first passenger off the plane was Zyazikov, who got into one of the cars waiting for him on the tarmac. “Several minutes after the presidential motorcade’s departure, another cavalcade of armored automobiles drove up to the airplane – two UAZ and four Volgas,” Khazbiev said. “Police armed to the teeth poured out of the cars, among them the head of the [Ingush] MVD [Interior Ministry] Musa Medov.” Khazbiev said that the policemen “pounced on” Yevloev after he exited the aircraft and dragged him toward one of their vehicles. Yevloev’s relatives and friends then rushed into the airport waiting room, pushing aside airport security guards and breaking glass doors, but failed to liberate him: the policemen who had Yevloev in custody fired automatic weapons at their feet, threw Yevloev into one of the waiting UAZ vehicles and sped off. The police convoy drove off not via the airport’s front gate, which was already blockaded by opposition supporters, but by an “alternate route.”
Khazbiev told Kommersant that once it left the airport, the police convoy split into two columns, one of which drove off toward the village of Troitsky while the other drove to the Kavkaz highway in the direction of Nazran. Yevloev’s supporters assumed he was being taken to a detention facility in Nazran and took off after the second column. According to Khazbiev, they managed to catch up with the second column of police vehicles at the turnoff to Nazran near the Ekazhevsky Circle and rammed two of the police Volgas, but it turned out that Yevloev was not in either of those vehicles. Yevloev’s supporters dragged the policemen out of the Volgas and beat them, seizing their side-arms and IDs. Khazbiev said the captured policemen said: “There’s no blood on us; we are not guilty.” He added: “At that point, we didn’t understand what blood they were talking about; we thought they were talking about previous victims of the siloviki. But … they were talking about Magomed, who had already been murdered in a car.”
Yevloev’s supporters then headed to the Nazran city police department (GUVD), where they believed he was being held. “We had already planned to storm the GUVD when one of the guys found that Magomed [had been] mortally wounded back at the airport [and] was in the resuscitation unit of Nazran’s TsKB [Central Clinical Hospital],” Khazbiev said. “Later, the doctors told us that he was taken directly from the airport in an essentially hopeless condition, and therefore they didn’t even want to operate on him. They performed an operation, but it didn’t save him.”
Khazbiev called the official version of Magomed Yevloev’s death – that he was shot accidently – a lie. “They wanted to kill Magomed,” he said. “Think about it: what need was there to use spetsnaz armed to the teeth to detain an unarmed person? Magomed could have been overpowered without the use of weapons. And why did the weapon that supposedly shot Magomed accidentally not have its safety on and have a cartridge in the chamber? I washed the body of Magomed and saw the wound: the wound went in one temple and out of the other. It is impossible to inflict such a wound in a fight.”
Human rights activists in Moscow also believe Yevloev was killed deliberately. “It is hard to believe that Yevloev received a mortal wound while resisting arrest,” said Aleksandr Cherkasov of the Memorial human rights group. “He was unarmed, given that he was seized from the aircraft. You cannot bring a weapon onto a plane. Human rights activists have repeatedly emphasized that in Ingushetia, the practice of extra-judicial killing is used: people are not detained, but murdered.”
Ingushetiya.ru reported on September 3 that it had received an anonymous telephone call stating that the commander of Ingushetia’s OMON special police, Magomed Tsoroev, personally participated in detaining and killing Magomed Yevloev. However, the website later reported that Tsoroev personally told the current owner of the website, Maksharip Aushev, on September 4 that he had been on vacation and only returned to Ingushetia on the evening of August 31 – that is, after Yevloev’s killing – and had no role in the killing. He also said he did not give the OMON orders to kill Yevloev and said he would swear on the Koran that he was telling the truth. “Thus, it is becoming obvious that [Ingush President] Murat Zyazikov, [Ingush Interior Minister] Musa Medvov and their gang are trying to deflect the justifiable popular indignation from themselves and in a cowardly manner are … blackening the names of other people,” Ingushetiya.ru commented. The website added that Zyazikov, Medov and their allies do not have the courage to own up to their deeds, which demonstrates the “dirty essence of their regime.”
Kommersant on September 5 quoted Magomed Khazbiev as claiming that Yevloev was shot and killed by the police even before they left the grounds of the airport in Magas. Khazbiev also said there is “reason to believe” that it was Ingush Interior Ministry Musa Medov himself who shot and killed Yevloev.
Kommersant on September 1 quoted Ingush opposition leaders as saying that if the federal authorities do not take decisive measures to solve Magomed Yevloev’s murder and punish the perpetrators, then the Ingush opposition will appeal to the international community to “detach Ingushetia from Russia.” The newspaper quoted Magomed Khazbiev as saying: “If we are disliked by this country, then we don’t know what else there is for us to do.” Khazbiev added that the Ingush opposition would discuss what further actions to take in the wake of Magomed Yevloev’s murder at a special meeting that will be held in the near future.
The United States urged Russian authorities to investigate Yevloev’s death. “It’s very disturbing,” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “We’re still gathering the details and some of the facts regarding this issue, but apparently this individual was in the custody of officials and … was shot in the head. So it is something that needs to be investigated. Russian officials need to get to the bottom of it. And there needs to be people held to account for what happened.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that Yevloev died in custody because authorities wanted to silence him, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. OSCE Freedom of Media Representative Miklos Haraszti said in a statement that Yevloev’s death was “the culmination of an orchestrated campaign by the authorities of Ingushetia to silence the only critical voice in the region.” Haraszti said Yevloev had been on the same flight as Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, during which he had a heated discussion with the politician. The OSCE official called on Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident. “Russia should live up to its OSCE commitments and support, rather than repress, free debate, free reporting and media pluralism,” Haraszti said.
Memorial issued a statement calling Yevloev’s killing an act of state terrorism, Newsru.com reported on September 1. “One is under the impression that after ‘a small victorious war’ the authorities have given up observing even the appearance of lawfulness in their actions toward those they consider opponents,” the Russian human rights group said, alluding to the conflict between Russia and Georgia. “We demand a quick and effective investigation of this crime and that those who committed it and ordered it be brought to justice.”
Meanwhile, the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti on September 4 quoted a source in the Russian presidential administration as saying that Yevloev’s murder could have negative consequences for Ingushetia’s president. “The situation with Zyazikov is bad,” the Kremlin source told the newspaper, adding that “we will be thinking” over what to do about him.