Moscow’s Revolving Door of Alleged Killings of Militant Leaders in Ingushetia Continues

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 99

The armed conflict in the North Caucasus continues to kill and maim (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/224400/). Murders, kidnappings and explosions have become the daily routine in this part of Russia. Only suicide bombings carried out by the armed resistance groups provide a slightly different picture. Neither side of the conflict approves of suicide bombings, but the suicide bombers also fall into different categories. Some seek to defend their ideological interests and others are pushed by the system itself.

Another suicide bombing took place on May 17, in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district. During the search of a house of a suspected insurgent, the suspect blew himself up with a grenade and died on the spot. Thirteen officers from the Main Directorate of the Russian interior ministry’s branch in the North Caucasus were wounded in the incident. The bomber was identified as 32-year-old Said-Hussein Atnazov, a native of Chechnya. The owner of the house where the suspect resided, Ahmad Khashiev, was arrested. The police found ammunition during a search of the house (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/224408/). The suspected militant apparently preferred to die rather than face ill-treatment at the hands of the police, so he was not a classical shahid (martyr) and his death was connected to the actions of the police. When given a choice of death or prison, a young insurgent prefers to die because the punitive system is such that a prison sentence tends to turn into torture (http://kavkasia.net/Russia/2013/1364177597.php), while the relatives of those imprisoned are constantly pressured by the authorities (http://azerbaijan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/157273). So, most of the time, death is the only real choice a militant has—the only way to avoid being mistreated in prison and seeing his family persecuted. Thus the authorities themselves make it more likely that militants will fight to the finish.

Several days after the suicide bombing in Ingushetia, on May 21, a special operation was conducted in the Gamurzievsky municipal district on the outskirts of Nazran, where a counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced on four streets. Law enforcement officers surrounded a house on Bariev Street (http://regnum.ru/news/accidents/1660926.html). According to the security services, there were two militants in the house. The police operation started at 4 a.m., and after brief negotiations with the militants hiding in the house, they allowed a woman with a child to leave the house but then turned off their phones. This was a signal to the security forces that it was time to storm the building. After a short clash, the two militants were killed. They were subsequently identified as 25-year-old Alikhan Ozdoev and 37-year-old Jamaleil Mutaliev (http://www.finmarket.ru/z/nws/hn.asp?id=3341687).

The Russian security services tend to portray every slain rebel as the most dangerous and notorious figure in the insurgency. According to Russian observers, Mutaliev appears to have been an important figure in the rebel hierarchy who went by the name of Emir Adam, and was supposedly the head of Ingushetia’s insurgency and a deputy to Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov. The killing was apparently meant to be an additional weighty argument for the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, who on the eve of the killing was preparing to meet with his American counterpart, Thomas Donilon, in Washington (http://inotv.rt.com/2013-05-21/Doku-Umarov-ostalsya-bez-pravoj). Patrushev plans to share the Russian experience of fighting terrorism with President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor. It is unlikely that Donilon will make use of the highly dubious Russian experience in the North Caucasus from the past twenty years.

If the killing of Emir Adam in Ingushetia is actually confirmed by militant sources, it will indeed mean that a high-profile figure in the Caucasus Emirate has been eliminated. However, the significance of this should not be overestimated because of the tendency of the Russian security services to tout every death as the major killing of yet another important militant leader in the nebulous world of the North Caucasus insurgency. Emir Adam, for example, has not shown himself to be a particularly important leader either in the Caucasus Emirate or in the Ingush Velayat since he was appointed as head of the latter in 2010. In addition, Russian authorities claim Emir Adam was the mastermind behind the terrorist attack on the market in Vladikavkaz on September 9, 2010, in which 19 people died (http://www.golos-ameriki.ru/content/ingushetia/1665385.html).

However, for those analysts who carefully monitor every arrest and killing of militants in the region one would note a discrepancy in the claims of the Russian intelligence services, namely that the organizer of the 2010 terror attack in Vladikavkaz had previously been announced. Earlier, Moscow had claimed that Isa Khashagulgov (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/220040/) was the architect of the bombing and subsequently received a 24-year prison sentence for organizing this attack (http://fedpress.ru/news/society/news_crime/prichastnyi-k-vzryvu-vo-vladikavkaze-terrorist-prigovoren-k-24-godam). Shortly after the Vladikavkaz attack, the authorities announced the arrest of the leader of the Karabulak jamaat, which does not exist. According to Moscow, the alleged leader, Yusup Dzangiev, gave up everyone he knew, but Jamaleil Mutaliev—Emir Adam—was not among them (http://region15.ru/articles/2834/). The spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, said that the terror attack in Vladikavkaz had been practically solved and all seven organizers had been arrested. What, then, was Jamaleil Mutaliev’s role in the attack? His killing appears to have been designed to help the security services’ officials receive more medals and advance their careers.

The Kremlin media machine hurried to turn Mutaliev’s killing into a great achievement, calling it a “psychological victory” (http://www.rg.ru/2013/05/21/reg-skfo/ruka.html). Emir Adam was appointed to his position in 2010 after the arrest of Emir Magas (a.k.a. Ali Taziev, Magomed Yevloev). However, upon close scrutiny it appears that if he was such a highly touted emir, he never appeared in any online videos and made only two or three statements signed by the emir of the Velayat of Ingushetia in the course of two to three years. One of the statements was in support of Doku Umarov after a group of Chechen commanders split from him (http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2010/08/11/74490.shtml).

It should also be noted that Jamaleil Mutaliev was already reported killed back in January 2012. The killing was even videotaped and leaked on the web to celebrate the putatively successful special operation targeting Emir Adam (Jamaleil Mutaliev) (http://inglifenews.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=168:mutaliev&catid=11:proishestviya&Itemid=9). Without rejecting the possibility that Mutaliev indeed was killed, when then did it actually happen?

Should the death of Emir Adam be confirmed, then it is unlikely to have a major impact on the Ingush insurgency as another emir will take his place, and he will have to demonstrate his leadership abilities among the jihadists in this part of the North Caucasus. Since the 2010 capture of Emir Magas, the Ingush insurgency has experienced a major overhaul of its structure and leadership because so much of the day-to-day operations were operated by Magas. Unlike in Dagestan, where the jamaats operate as pseudo-independent groups, the Ingush jamaats were dependent on one person. This explains the huge downturn in operations there after 2010. The setback with the capture of Magas has completely altered the operational tempo of the Ingush insurgency as new leaders and groups are restructured and potential Russian moles are weeded out. This process has been ongoing for the past three years as there are signs that the insurgency is coming back to life.

With the selection of a new emir, attacks will likely resume again with greater frequency, than under the predecessor, Emir Adam. Nonetheless, Russian officials are deluding themselves in proclaiming a “psychological victory” with the second reported killing of Emir Adam. In fact, the situation is unchanged and could even deteriorate; in any case, it will certainly not improve. Indeed, there are no signs that the security situation in Ingushetia is changing for the better.