Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya wrote in the biweekly’s October 20 edition that the main reason for the Nalchik attack was that the “oppression” of Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria had reached such a level that the “local jamaats—that is, the religious communities (only don’t confuse them with the gangs)—had no choice other than to move to self-defense. Even by means of self-annihilation.” It was not only the radical Yarmuk Jamaat, already implicated in various other attacks, that felt compelled to participate in the Nalchik attack, Politkovskaya wrote. “Other jamaats also practically had no choice left. Even if you don’t mention the closure of mosques and the ban on praying not in the way ‘one is officially supposed to,’ the police in Kabardino-Balkaria in recent months did something completely prohibited: they beat pregnant Muslim women, knowing that they were pregnant and Muslim…; during a special operation for ‘the final destruction of the Yarmuk Jamaat,’ they killed infants together with their parents, right in their apartments, and did not even return the bodies of the children to their relatives.” Muslims, according to Politkovskaya, say that an “anti-Islamic pressing” has forced many people into “the shadows, the underground.”
“Nalchik was a direct action of the Muslim underground which is growing stronger on the yeast of the top Russian Federation officialdom’s stupid Caucasus policy,” Politkovskaya concluded. “The stupider the policy, the more horrible the actions. Kabardino-Balkaria in recent months saw the stupidest anti-Muslim policy (after Chechnya, with its Kadyrovite quasi-Muslim clownery). And a demonstration resulted, albeit one that was completely senseless, admittedly to no avail and doomed to blood and death. But [it was] desperation; [it was] all about: ‘We will take revenge on you’.”
Apparently referring to some of the same incidents cited by Politkovskaya, columnist Yulia Latynina wrote in the Moscow Times on October 26 that the sister of one of the insurgents killed in Nalchik “had been beaten up by the cops on the street a few months before. On Oct. 13 he took up arms. He was a poor shot because he suffered from cerebral palsy, but this didn’t stop him. The pregnant wife of another dead man had also been beaten by police. She had stepped out to the bakery in her house slippers and shawl. Fearing a miscarriage, she begged the cops not to hit her in the stomach, but they hit her anyway. Her husband joined the guerrillas.”
Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center also said that the October 13 violence was a result of the local siloviki “deliberately heating up tensions” over the last five years. “Of the two communities of the republic, Yarmuk from the beginning came forward with radical demands, but the community [Jamaat-CW] of Kabardino-Balkaria, which was led by Musa Mukozhev and Anzor Astemirov, acted openly: these were responsible and educated people; they founded the Institute for Islamic Research, [and] were open to everyone,” Gazeta quoted Malashenko as saying. “In response, they [the republic’s siloviki-CW] started to persecute them, arrest them, beat them in the mosques. Now the guys who were loyal just a year ago are accused of organizing a rebellion. And it is possible that during these five years some of them were driven to the point where they took up arms.”
Kommersant reported on October 24 that Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry has announced a reward of $50,000 for information leading to the capture of Anzor Astemirov—who, it alleges, was one of the October 13 raid’s organizers. Astemirov, who is already on the federal wanted list, was allegedly involved in the December 2004 attack on a regional branch of the Federal Drug Control in Nalchik, during which four of the service’s employees were killed and a large number of weapons were stolen. The Yarmuk Jamaat claimed responsibility for that attack (see Chechnya Weekly, October 6).
The Yarmuk Jamaat itself put forward its own explanations for the October 13 raid on Nalchik in a statement posted on the separatist Daymohk website on October 17. Stating that its fighters took part in the raid on Nalchik, Yarmuk dismissed some of the explanations for why the attack was carried out that have been put forward by proffered “unbelievers.” Commenting on the idea that the attack occurred because of the bad economic situation and unemployment in Kabardino-Balkaria, the group noted that this “nonsense was also mumbled, like a hedgehog in the fog, by the…Putinite lackey [Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen] Kanokov.” To be a “mujahideen” is not “work, but the obligation of every able-bodied Muslim,” the statement read, adding that the attackers in Nalchik targeted “puppet structures, not banks.” Responding to the idea that the attack was aimed at the “incorrect policy of Russia in the Caucasus,” Yarmuk stated: “What kind of a policy can occupiers have in occupied territory except the extermination and enslavement of the local population and plundering!” As for the idea that the attack was connected to the “struggle of local clans for powers,” the group stated: “We will leave this gibberish without commentary.”
“To this whole propagandistic lie we again state: We, praise to Allah, are Muslims, and we are unpretentious people,” Yarmuk stated. “It has never been in history that Muslims fought for the sake of profit, glory or power. Muslims have fought either for the sake of establishing the Law of Allah on earth; or protecting their religion, honor or native land; or aiding Muslims who are being subjected to aggression or those who are under protection by treaty. In our case, the Muslims of Kabarda and Balkaria are fighting against the Russian occupiers and local hypocrites [munafiki] for establishing the Law of Allah, protecting our Religion, Honor and Native Land.”
It is worth noting that at least one observer doubts that the Yarmuk Jamaat actually exists. “I have the impression that Yarmuk is a phantom, something mythical,” Akhmet Yarlykapov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology told Kavkazky Uzel on October 24. “I have been in Kabardino-Balkaria many times, studied this problem but still don’t fully understand what Yarmuk is. Even in the law enforcement organs they say that there is no Yarmuk, and that the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria is responsible for all the terrorist acts. And that in order to deflect suspicion from itself, the jamaat made all statements in the name of Yarmuk, which they specially thought up [for this purpose].” So the existence of Yarmuk has so far not been proven. Like Aleksei Malashenko, Yarlykapov said that the leaders of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria are “responsible” and “rational” people, “who were prepared to work stably and legally on the Russian legal field. They did not plan to go underground; they on the contrary loudly announced themselves. But, unfortunately, the authorities chose the route of repression. There were many repressive measures with respect to this jamaat. As a result, Musa Mukozhev was forced to go underground and many Muslims from the jamaat went with him.”