Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 11

Western news agencies reported on March 15 that two militants who were holed up in a house in the town of Khasavyurt managed to escape despite the fact that they were surrounded by hundreds of security forces and armored vehicles and that the house they were in caught fire at one point. Itar-Tass quoted Colonel Abudmanap Musaev, head of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s press service, as saying that the two militants made their get away “using the dark and a densely-populated district of the town.” Law-enforcement officials identified the escaped militants as 25-year-old Vagit Khasbulatov and 29-year-old Shamil Taymaskhanov, both of whom were local residents and, according to Musaev, wanted for committing serious crimes in Dagestan and Chechnya, including “several terrorist attacks and attacks on law-enforcement officers.”

On March 14, police carried out an operation in the Khasavyurt district to capture members of “illegal armed formations” that resulted in the deaths of two suspected militants accused of killing policemen in Khasavyurt last December 31. The two dead militants were identified as Salman Yangizbiev (born 1979) and Ruslan Yunusov (born 1973). A six-year-old girl – the daughter of the man who owned the house where they were staying – was killed during the security operation. Two policemen were wounded. The press center for the headquarters of Russian military operations in the North Caucasus said the operation was launched on the basis of information that fighters from a group commanded by an “Arab mercenary” known as Dzharakh were in the Khasavyurt district village of Batashyurt. According to the Russian military, Dzharakh is a close associate of Abu Hafs, the veteran Jordanian jihadi who is commander of foreign mujahideen in Chechnya.

According to an in-depth investigative report from Dagestan by Nabi Abdullaev published in the Moscow Times on March 15, the violence in the republic is a “murderous cycle of revenge” that involves radicalized young Dagestanis who have been tortured by Dagestani police and security forces – particularly members of a special Dagestani police unit set up to combat religious extremism – on suspicion of being “Wahhabis.” Abdullaev noted that police have “labeled many people Wahhabis who study and practice their religion independently of the official mosques” in Dagestan, which are controlled by the pro-government Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims. Many of these disaffected young Dagestani Muslims have joined the Sharia Jamaat, headed by Rasul Makhasharipov, a former interpreter for Shamil Basaev, and taken part in attacks on police and other security officials in Dagestan, dozens of whom have been killed over the last several years.

Meanwhile, Makasharipov issued a statement posted on the Kavkazcenter website on March 14 declaring that the Sharia Jamaat and “all the remaining military units headed by the Emir of Dagestan Rabbani Khalilov swear fealty to the new Emir of the Caucasus and All Russian Muslims Sheikh Abdul Khalim.” Makasharipov expressed condolences to the family and relatives of Aslan Maskhadov.