Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 17

Akhmed Aliev, deputy chairman of the administration of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, was murdered together with his wife on January 22. The crime took place in their home in the Dagestani capital (Russian agencies, January 22). It came just a few days after a terrorist bombing in Makhachkala, in which a radio controlled explosive was detonated as a truck transporting Interior Ministry troops passed by. Seven Russian servicemen were killed and three wounded in the attack. Many in the Russian press saw the bombing as an attempt by Chechen separatists to spread the war in their republic beyond its borders. Declaring that “the Dagestani patriots are opening a second front,” information structures controlled by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov reported that an underground group called the “Party of Patriots of the Caucasus” had begun operating in the North Caucasus, its goal being to “fight against the Russian occupiers and help their Chechen brothers.” Similar reports came from media controlled by the more radical members of the Chechen rebel movement, including Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov, which reported that “several sabotage groups” were operating in Dagestan under the so-called “Unified Command of Mujahideen.” “The evidence of the unbending nature of our people is their recent participation in acts of revenge,” these media declared. Soon after the January 18 bombing of the Interior Ministry troop transport truck, several top Dagestani officials, including Magomedali Magomedov, chairman of the republic’s State Council (the highest executive post in Dagestan), speculated that the attack had been carried out by proponents of “Wahhabism”, or Islamic fundamentalism, who refused to accept their defeat in 1999. In August of that year, a force of guerrillas led by Basaev and another Chechen rebel field commander, Khattab, invaded Dagestan from Chechnya–a move that helped spark Russia’s latest military intervention in Chechnya (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 21; see also the Monitor, January 21).

But while Russian observers have tended to accept the theory that the January 18 terrorist bombing was carried out by Islamist radicals, many observers in Dagestan believe that the most recent acts of terror and violence there, including the murder of Akhmed Aliev, were carried out by forces that are trying to destabilize the republic in the walk-up to elections scheduled to take place this year. The Makhachkala mayor’s election is set for February, while the election for State Council chairman is set to take place in six months. There have been nine terrorist acts in Dagestan this month alone (ten if you include yesterday’s bombing of a Makhachkala police dispatch center, which was apparently an act of a revenge by a criminal and thus not politically motivated). Last week’s terrorist attack on the Russian Interior Ministry troops occurred just one day after Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern federal district, was in Makhachkala on an official visit. While in the Dagestani capital, Kazantsev presented Magomedali Magomedov with a watch inscribed with the Russian president’s signature and conferred the Order of Peter on the Dagestani capital (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 21).