Violence appears to be ratcheting up in yet another region of the North Caucasus – Kabardino-Balkaria. The republic’s capital, Nalchik, was the scene of a large-scale rebel attack in October 2005 in which 35 law enforcement officers, 12 civilians and 92 rebels were killed, but has otherwise been more quiescent than its neighbors in the region – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Three policemen were wounded on June 2 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car in which they were traveling near the settlement of Neitrino in Kabaradino-Balkaria’s Elbrussky district. According to Interfax, a source in the republic’s Interior Ministry identified the victims as a pair of road patrol service (DPS) inspectors and a platoon commander of the ministry’s patrol-sentry service. The news agency reported that the wounded police officers returned fire but provided no other details concerning the attack (Interfax, Kavkazky Uzel, June 3).
However, Kavkaz-Center – the mouthpiece of the "Caucasus Emirate," as the radical Islamist wing of the North Caucasus resistance movement calls itself – posted on June 3 what amounted to a claim of responsibility for the attack. The website reported that "mujahideen" in the Elbrussky district of the "United Vilayat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachai of the Caucasus Emirate" had ambushed "members of the DPS gang" and that three "murtads" (apostates) had been wounded, including "the ringleader of the patrol gang" (www.kavkazcenter.com, June 3).
The June 3 attack in Kabardino-Balkaria was the latest in a series of violent incidents connected to the insurgency in the republic. On May 28, several militants – two or three, according to different media reports – were killed in a 12-hour battle with security forces in Nalchik. One of the slain militants was identified as Murat Ristov, a 25-year-old native of Karachaevo-Cherkessia who is also a sambo martial arts world champion.
In the immediate aftermath of the May 28 shootout in Nalchik, some Russian media quoted anonymous security officials as saying that Anzor Astemirov, the leader of Islamic militants in Kabardino-Balkaria and one of the organizers of the October 2005 raid on Nalchik, who is also head of the Caucasus Emirate’s Supreme Sharia Court, was among the dead militants. However, Kommersant quoted another security source as saying that Astemirov was not one of the slain militants (Kommersant, May 29). Still other media quoted an unnamed republican law enforcement official as saying that one of the bodies of the dead militants may have been that of Astemirov but that an autopsy would be needed for a positive identification because the body had been severely disfigured by an explosion (RIA Novosti, May 28; Novoye Izvestia May 29).
Meanwhile, 40 of the 58 men who are currently on trial for alleged participation in the October 2005 Nalchik attacks have reportedly gone on a hunger strike in the Nalchik remand prison where they are being held. The hunger strikers are demanding that one of their fellow suspects, Sergei Kaziev, who is suffering from hepatitis, be hospitalized in the republic’s AIDS clinic or another civilian clinic. Kaziev reportedly became ill during a court appearance on June 2 (Interfax, June 2).
On May 14, Lieutenant-Colonel Vitaly Bogatyrev, the deputy head of the Nalchik remand prison where the 58 accused rebels are being held, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Nalchik.
There were also reports of bombings and shootings in Ingushetia and Chechnya over the last 48 hours. A car driven by the head of the internal affairs department of the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN) branch in Ingushetia, Col. Isa Tochiev, was blown up by a bomb in Nazran, Ingushetia’s main city, on June 3. Tochiev was wounded and later died in the hospital. Tochiev’s wife and children were with him in the car at the time of the blast, and his wife and a young son were injured in the explosion and hospitalized. RIA Novosti quoted an FSKN source as saying that Tochiev had been on an insurgent hit list for five years. Kavkaz-Center reported the attack but did not cite any claims of responsibility (RIA Novosti, Interfax, www.kavkazcenter.com, June 3).
Separately, security forces in Ingushetia reportedly launched a counter-terrorist operation in three villages in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district – Alkhasty, Arshty and Datykh – on June 4 in an effort to capture a group of militants (Interfax, June 4).
In Chechnya, one alleged gunman was killed on June 3 during a shootout between security forces and a group of what was believed to be three or four militants. The incident took place during a special operation conducted by members of the Kurchaloi and Nozhoi-Yurt district department, the Chechen Interior Ministry’s Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment and the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in a wooded area two kilometers from the village of Akkhinchu-Borzoi in the Kurchaloi district (Interfax, June 3).