According to some Russian press reports, a large contingent of Chechen rebel fighters–some 400 in number–have attacked Gudermes, Chechnya’s second largest city. Law enforcement and military officials were quoted as saying that that the attackers were “very well organized and well armed,” and appeared to know both the city and know where Russian Interior Ministry units were. This, according to the Russian officials, suggests that the attackers are local inhabitants (RIA Novosti, September 17).
Following these initial reports, however, General Valery Baranov, commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, denied them. Rebels had indeed fired on several Russian checkpoints in the city, he said, but emphasized that the situation was calm and that federal forces were in control. Meanwhile, a source in the office of the presidential representative to the Southern federal district was quoted as saying that the rebels had indeed attempted an attack but that the situation was now “normalizing.” For its part, the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source in the offices of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration’s Supreme Court, which is located in the center of Djohar (Grozny), as saying that gunfire could be heard there all morning. Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev, secretary of the Security Council in the neighboring republic of Dagestan, said that the reported attack on Gudermes might have been a rebel response to a series of special operations Russian forces had mounted against the rebels in regions of Chechnya along its border with Dagestan, including the Gudermes, Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno regions. At around midday today, Moscow time, Akhmad Kadyrov, head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration, was quoted as saying that security forces had surrounded fifteen rebel fighters in Gudermes, while sources in the local police force said that some 100 rebel fighters were in the city and were firing at administrative buildings and federal troop positions. Meanwhile, the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s aide, which had earlier in the day denied that any large-scale fighting was taking place in Gudermes, changed its story. The state’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted sources in Yastrzhembsky’s office as saying that several dozen heavily armed rebels had attacked federal forces in several districts of the city. The sources claimed that the attackers had been dispersed but that other small groups of rebel fighters were trying to enter the city and that gunfire was continuing (RIA-Novosti, Polit.ru, Interfax, NTV.ru, September 17).
Whatever the truth about the reported attack, it should be noted that several buildings holding offices of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya are in Gudermes and that the city remains the republic’s de facto capital. It is ringed by Russian troops, so it is somewhat surprising that the rebels are able to mount attacks there on a regular basis. Gudermes experienced a series of terrorist attacks at the start of the summer, when rebels detonated car bombs near the buildings of the city’s administration and police headquarters. Some ten policemen were killed (see the Monitor, June 21). Meanwhile, the Chechen capital, Djohar, has been put on the highest state of alert, with Russian troops reportedly digging foxholes around the city outskirts and all forms of transportation barred entry (RIA Novosti, September 17).
Today, on the heels of the reports that Gudermes had been attacked, RTR state television reported that 200 Chechen rebel fighters had today attacked the town of Argun. According to the NTV.ru website, a suicide bomber last night drove a truck loaded with explosives into the home of Movsar Timerbaev, head of the Argun city administration. Timarbaev’s family was reportedly located in a remote wing of the home at the time of the blast, and thus escaped injury. A local policeman who was acting as a bodyguard to Timarbaev was reportedly killed (NTV.ru, Polit.ru, September 17).
There were reports over the weekend of fighting in other parts of Chechnya. Two Russian soldiers died and another three people were wounded yesterday (September 16) when rebel fighters attacked a military column in the Shelkovsk district, in northwestern Chechnya. Three rebels were killed in the attack. On September 15, rebels attacked a group of federal troops which, accompanied by two armored personnel carriers, was searching for suspected mines near the settlement of Kurdyukovskaya. On the same day, a police car in Djohar was blown up when it hit a mine. Its passengers, including the head of the Tomsk Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry and several subordinates, survived the blast, suffering only minor injuries. Russian military reported that they killed thirteen rebel fighters in the Shelkovsk district. The rebels were spotted from the air in the woods near the Terek River and were targeted by artillery (RIA Novosti, Itar-Tass, September 16).
Meanwhile, three persons accused of involvement in the murder of two ethnic Russian families this past February and May were captured in Djohar yesterday. The suspects reportedly also confessed to attacking and robbing two elderly Russian women this past July (Interfax, September 16). The murder of ethnic Russian civilians in Chechnya has become a fairly common occurrence over the course of the current military campaign, and one can conjecture that such killings are acts of revenge on the part of Chechens. This marks a change from the first military campaign, which took place from 1994 to 1996, during which Chechens were generally protective of local ethnic Russians, who, they emphasized, were not responsible for the Kremlin’s policies.
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO LINK CHECHEN REBELS WITH BIN LADEN.