Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 43

The Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry claimed on November 12 that as part of its investigation into the October 13 armed raid on Nalchik it had discovered a large weapons and ammunition cache. “A weapons cache was revealed in a country house in the Urvan district of Kabardino-Balkaria, which belonged to Anzor Astemirov, the leader of an underground Wahhabi cell, killed during the armed raid on Nalchik,” a ministry source told Interfax. “The cache contained a Strela portable anti-aircraft launcher; a Kalashnikov assault rifle, which was registered as stolen during the armed raid on Ingushetia in June 22, 2004; three zinc boxes containing 2,040 cartridges; three hand grenades; 11 remote controls for improvised bombs; 20 electric detonators, three camouflage uniforms; a power supply unit for a laptop computer and a map of Karachaevo-Cherkessia.” The source claimed the cache also contained an improvised bomb equivalent to 600 grams of TNT with a timing mechanism, as well as a bag containing a passport and a driving license belonging to Astemirov, who is believed to have been one of the organizers of the raid on Nalchik, and a passport belonging to Dagir Khubiev, a Karachaevo-Cherkessia resident killed in an armed clash with security forces in Kabardino-Balkaria in early September 2005.

Some observers, it should be noted, have expressed skepticism over the Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry’s discovery of this cache. “Police made a breakthrough last week in their investigation of the October 13 revolt in Nalchik: They discovered a large cache of weapons at a dacha in a nearby village,” Yulia Latynina wrote in her weekly Moscow Times column published in the English-language newspaper’s November 16 edition. “A sports bag with the passport and driver’s license of Anzor Astemirov was also found at the dacha, conveniently removing any doubt as to the ownership of the weapons. I can understand when the cops in Voronezh apprehend a ‘terrorist’ carrying a couple of bullets and are rewarded with promotions and medals. But why bother faking a weapons cache in Kabardino-Balkaria when there’s a refrigerated truck full of corpses [of alleged rebels] in the capital city? No one even seems to know just how many corpses there are in Nalchik. The official body count ranges from 82 to 92.”

The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg will consider a complaint brought by 50 relatives of militants killed in the October 13 raid in Nalchik who are demanding that their bodies be returned, Izvestia reported on November 11. “We appealed to the European Court for Human Rights,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Larisa Dorogova, told the newspaper. “They accepted our complaint and gave it priority status. They informed the government of the Russian Federation of this and established the deadline (November 22) by which Russia must answer our questions.” She also said that she had written to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office accusing Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Minister, Khachim Shogenov, and several other republican officials, of organizing torture. “I already communicated with Mart Pekov, senior investigator with the prosecutor’s office,” Dorogova said. “He made it clear that if this is not proven that the minister and several other persons really were involved in torture, then we might be sued for slander,” she said. “Of course, Shagenov himself did not torture them, but who did the ordinary policeman who engaged in torture receive his orders from? I’m not saying that the actions of my clients were not criminal, but who drove them to this extreme? The siloviki.”

Dorogova also charged that police in Kabardino-Balkaria committed widespread abuses against Muslims. “Disagreements with Anas Pshikhachev, head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims, engendered this war,” she said. “Even last year, after they started to close mosques, believers appealed to me to protect their interests. At that time we wrote a letter to [President] Putin, the president’s envoy to the Southern Federal District [Dmitry] Kozak and the [presidential] human rights ombudsman [Vladimir] Lukin. But nothing changed.” The lawyer also said that there have been arrests of people who were not involved in the October 13 violence. “I have the cases of two young people who were taken away the day after the tragic events,” she said. “One of them, Boris Dzagalov, was seized on October 15, and then his father identified him in the morgue. On the evening of October 13, Zaur Ksanukov was taken away from the Zolsky district, [and] after several days his parents were asked to identify [his body]; they were told that he had jumped out of a window. He had been taken to the UBOP [the republic’s anti-organized crime directorate], and there he was helped to leave this life.” The head of the information-analytical department of the Kabardino-Balkarian prosecutor’s office, Leon Murzakanov, denied Dorogova’s allegations. “They say that these people are being tortured in the basements of the UBOP, but there are no basements there,” he said. “It used to be a sanatorium. As for the statements regarding the minister, they will be examined and answered within three days.”

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, for his part, condemned decisions made during village meetings in Kabardino-Balkaria calling for the eviction of relatives of militants who took part on the October 13 raid on Nalchik (see Chechnya Weekly, November 10). “Nobody has the right to persecute or evict the innocent,” Itar-Tass quoted Shepel as saying during a meeting with Nalchik residents on November 16. Asked about the issue of handing over the bodies of militants to their families, Shepel underlined that the law prohibits handing over the body of terrorists but said that a complete set forensic tests would be carried out over the next month to rule out errors. According to Itar-Tass, relatives of militants killed in the Nalchik raid charged that the actions of Kabardino-Balkaria’s law enforcement bodies had made their children take up arms and asked: “Why were mosques closed in Nalchik?” Kabardino-Balkaria’s prosecutor, Yuri Ketov, who was at the meeting, claimed that police had only closed mosques that had been turned into training centers for militants and where weapon stores had been found. He also said that the issue of the “normal operation” of mosques would be considered in the near future.

The deputy chief of Kabardino-Balkaria’s RUBOP, Albert Sizhazhev, said that information from a captured militant who led one of the attacking groups in Nalchik on October 13 indicated that the attackers planned to seize the city and keep it under control for two months before moving into the forests and continuing the fight. “The information obtained by police shows that the militants planned to establish a base in Kabardino-Balkaria, similar to the ones deployed in Chechnya from 1994 to 1995,” Interfax quoted Sizhazhev as saying at a news briefing in Nalchik on November 14. “They planned to spread the conflict in Chechnya into our republic.” The militants were financed “through various, nearly untraceable channels” from abroad, Chechnya and Moscow, he claimed.

Deputy Prosecutor General Shepel confirmed on November 11 that a criminal case was opened in October against Ruslan Nakhushev, the opposition Islamic scholar who disappeared earlier this month after being questioned by the FSB, who, Shepel said, the authorities believe “instigated and helped organize” the October 13 attack on Nalchik. According to Russian news agencies, Shepel also said that Rasul Kudaev, the former prisoner at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, was also suspected of being one of the leaders of the Nalchik raid (see Chechnya Weekly, November 10). On November 17, Kudaev’s mother, Fatima Tekaeva, told Kavkazky Uzel that she would be traveling to London at the initiation of the organization Reprieve, which a year ago offered aid to Russian prisoners in Guantanamo. On November19, Takaeva will take part in a conference in Oxford to which former Guantanamo prisoners from throughout the world have been invited.

For his part, Boris Pashtov, a State Duma deputy with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, suggested that radicals in the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria may have kidnapped Nakhushev. “Ruslan has a certain influence and connections and the start of a dialogue through him between the administration and the moderate wing of the jamaat could lead to a split in it, and, consequently, the jamaat would lose its ability to govern,” Kavazky Uzel on November 12 quoted Pashtov as saying. “So the radicals have more to gain from his disappearance than the authorities.” Pashtov also speculated that the radicals had another motive for kidnapping Nakhushev. “You can make a martyr for the truth out of him,” he said. “If, God help us, they find him dead, then for a certain section of the people he may become a banner of the struggle, a martyr who died for his faith at the hands of butchers. For a certain section of young people this might work.”

Meanwhile, an officer with the Volgograd Oblast OMON special police unit, Major Dmitry Kuznetsov, was killed and another OMON officer wounded in Kabardino-Balkaria on November 13 during an attempt to capture a rebel suspected of involvement in the Nalchik raid, Interfax reported. The rebel, identified as Alim Tkhakakhov, was hiding in a dwelling in the settlement of Urvan near Nalchik and put up armed resistance. He was killed in the shootout. On November 16, a spokeswoman for Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry, Marina Kyasova, reported that an 18-year-old girl from the village of Maisky had been detained in connection with the Nalchik attack. Komsomolskaya pravda reported on November 15 that another participant in the Nalchik attack had been captured in Moscow two days earlier. Police in the Siberian region of Chita reported on November 11 that two militants suspected of involvement in the Nalchik attack had been arrested in the town of Krasnokamensk, Interfax reported. Regional police officials identified the detained men as two brothers, Aslan and Ruslan Kuchmenov, who are residents of the Kabardino-Balkarian village of Shalushka. According to the officials, four Kuchmenov brothers were part of a group of nine people in Nalchik who robbed an arms shop in Nalchik on October 13. One of the Kuchmenov brothers was killed during the attack. Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel reported on November 11 that 38 suspects had been captured in connection with the October 13 Nalchik attack, RIA Novosti reported. on November 15 quoted a federal Interior Ministry source as saying that “Chechen bandits” planned to carry out a large-scale attack in Moscow, Astrakhan or in the North Caucasus before the end of the year in revenge for the failure of the October 13 Nalchik raid.