A member of the Stavropol Krai administration’s anti-terrorist commission, Aleksandr Bondarenko, told RIA Novosti on February 10 that the militants who were killed in fighting in Tukui-Mekteb, a village in Stavropol Krai’s Neftekumsky district, were members of an ethnic Nogai battalion that has been operating in Chechnya. “All these people were Nogais,” said Bondarenko, adding that during the fighting in Chechnya in the 1990s they were part of [Chechen rebel warlord] Shamil Basaev’s group. “Later, when the counter-terrorist operation ended, they all dispersed into the ‘jamaats,’ closed extremist Muslim societies split into territories,” Bondarenko said. Nezavisimaya gazeta reported in February of last year that there was a “Nogai Jamaat” operating in Stavropol Krai, which had been “formed on Shamil Basaev’s instructions during the first Chechen war to control steppe settlements in Neftekumsky district of Stavropol and the neighboring Chechen district of Shelkovsky” (see Chechnya Weekly, February 9, 2005).
The Associated Press reported on February 10 that two days of fighting in Tukui-Mekteb, located about 40 kilometers north of the Chechen border, had killed 12 suspected rebels and seven policemen. According to the news agency, police and local interior ministry officials said they were acting on a tip when they hunted down the rebels in Tukui-Mekteb and that 700 police troops had surrounded two houses where the remaining rebels were holed up a day after special forces stormed another house nearby. A regional interior ministry source told Interfax that the militants had planned to seize a school in Stavropol Krai in an operation similar to the seizure of the school in Beslan, North Ossetia in September 2004.
Kavkazky Uzel on February 10 quoted Akhmet Yarlykapov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology as saying: “Neftekumsky district has always been a headache for everyone. Apart from the Russians, there are two sets of peoples who have lived there for ages and earned the right to be called indigenous—Nogais and Turkmens. But the Nogais are living there as a people without any rights. They are not represented in the Neftekumsky district administration, although they make up about half the district’s population. And this policy of accusing an ethnic group of Wahhabism has been carried out in relation to the Nogais for ages. And it seems that, finally, they have persuaded the Nogais that they are in fact Wahhabis.”
Yarlykapov, however, said the idea that there is a rebel “Nogai battalion” is “a myth,” as are reports of other ethnic battalions. “Nogais from Neftekumsky district did fight on the side of the militants in Chechnya,” he said. “They have some guilt in this, but the Stavropol authorities themselves created [such an] intolerable situation that people went over to the separatists. The formations in Chechnya fighting against the federal forces are not organized along ethnic lines. This is alien to them; they are an ‘internationale.’ Therefore the existence of a Karachai or Nogai battalion is a myth. It benefits Basaev to promote this myth—saying, ‘the [different] peoples support me.'” The Stavropol authorities, for their part, have used this myth to “oppress” the Nogais,” said Yarlykapov. “And the one who comes out winning in this story is Basaev.”