NALCHIK: THE OFFICIAL STATS DON’T ADD UP
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 39
Kavkazky Uzel reported on October 19 that a total of 92 rebel gunmen were killed on October 13 during the attack on government and law enforcement buildings in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria. RIA Novosti reported that day that a total of 24 law enforcement officers died in the attack along with ten civilians, while Ekho Moskvy radio quoted the press secretary of Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov as saying that the bodies of ten civilians killed in the attack had been identified while another two bodies remained unidentified.
Some media, however, cited sources who indicated that the official statistics grossly understated the number of people killed in Nalchik. Newsru.com on October 18 quoted Fatima Tisova, a local journalist who works for the Associated Press, as saying that “there is no more room in the morgues.” The website noted that the republican authorities are refusing to return bodies for burial, insisting that practically all the dead were rebel fighters. The head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria, Anas Pshikhachev, also claimed that the official statistics understate the number of people killed in the fighting in Nalchik. “My neighbor was one of the hostages held at the 3rd police precinct building,” Pshikhachev said, as quoted by the website of the weekly newspaper Versia on October 18. “He says that practically all the hostages were immediately shot. There were people in civilian clothes among the attackers who, having hidden weapons under their clothes, beat their way through the crowd and opened fire.” Pshikhachev told Versia that his father was wounded in the head by a stray bullet as he was entering a store in central Nalchik across from the 2nd police precinct building, where a full-scale shootout between security forces and insurgents had broken out.
On October 18, mothers of rebels killed in the October 13 attack gathered outside the government headquarters in Nalchik to demand that their sons’ bodies be handed over for burial. A similar demonstration took place the previous day in front of the republican prosecutor’s office. Relatives of the dead guerrillas wrote a letter to the republic’s chief prosecutor, Yuri Ketov, demanding that they be returned for burial. Kavkazky Uzel, meanwhile, quoted President Kanokov as saying that the bodies of some “wayward” participants in the attack who had been used as “cannon fodder” might be retuned to their relatives so that “cruelty does not engender cruelty.”
Meanwhile, newsru.com reported on October 19 that relatives of people killed in the Nalchik fighting gathered outside the city morgue for a fifth consecutive day to demand the return of their relatives’ bodies. According to the website, the morgue was being guarded by approximately ten soldiers who said they were under orders to allow only one or two people at a time inside to identify bodies. One of the relatives outside the morgue told newsru.com that he had just identified the body of his 27-year-old son, Vadim Zhekamukhov, who had been killed by six bullets when he got out of his car to pick up his niece at a kindergarten located across from the 1st police precinct building, the site of another shootout. The website also described a distraught woman coming out of the morgue who had just identified the body of her son, who was also killed in a crossfire. It quoted a man standing outside as saying that the woman’s dead son had probably been officially recorded as “one of the Wahhabis. They don’t have enough bodies of [rebel] fighters, and are including ordinary innocent civilians among them.” The man claimed that most of the attackers had in fact managed to escape Nalchik.
Exactly how many rebels were involved in the attack, how many were killed and how many escaped, remains murky. As Vremya novostei correspondent Ivan Sukhov wrote from Nalchik for the newspaper’s October 17 edition, federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev declared on the evening of October 14 that 72 rebels had been killed and 31 captured. On October 15, Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov claimed that 150 rebels were involved in the attack. “The difference, by all appearances, bears witness to the fact that the order given by the head of state [President Vladimir Putin] not to let the rebels out of Nalchik was not completely fulfilled.” Kabardino-Balkaria’s Prime Minister, Gennady Gubin, claimed that none of the Nalchik attackers had managed to escape the city, Ekho Moskvy reported on October 17.
Sukhov of Vremya novostei quoted a source close to “the Muslim community of Nalchik” as saying that the attackers numbered roughly 200, and that they assaulted 11 or 12 sites simultaneously using groups each consisting of five to ten fighters. According to the source, half of the attackers were from Kabardino-Balkaria while the other half came from other republics and even from abroad. Sukhov noted that eyewitnesses to the attacks said the attackers included young and inexperienced fighters who did not have even camouflage uniforms, and older and more experienced fighters who were well equipped. Sukhov wrote that Nalchik residents insist that the number of civilians killed in the violence was, at minimum, 40.