Observers Wonder How Ingushetia Gunmen Went Undetected

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 39

Russian authorities have revised upwards casualty figures from the June 21-22 attacks by insurgents in Ingushetia. The republic’s President Murat Zyazikov told reporters in Ingushetia’s capital Magas that 97 people, including 27 civilians, were killed and 105 people, including 38 civilians, were wounded in the attacks. Itar-Tass, citing “official data,” reported that among the dead were 27 civilians, 29 policemen, 19 soldiers, five prosecutor’s office employees, seven border guards and 10 Federal Security Service (FSB) employees (Itar-Tass, June 24).

Reports on identities of the attackers continued to be contradictory. Zyazikov blamed the attacks on “international terrorism” and “its branches which exist in our country.” Likewise, an unnamed source in Ingushetia’s “power structures” told Interfax that that the attackers were “international terrorists” and included “Arab mercenaries.” The source said most of the attackers had been living in Ingushetia under the guise of being refugees, and that a majority of them fled to Chechnya following the raids (Interfax, June 24). A Nazran policeman told Kommersant that fighters who attacked his police unit spoke Ingush, Chechen and Russian among themselves but that many “looked like Arabs.” The newspaper reported that the Ingush and Chechen fighters freed workers, low-level government employees and traders detained during the raids, but that foreign fighters shot everyone they encountered, in one case shooting up an ambulance and the injured woman it was carrying (Kommersant, June 24).

Vladimir Yakovlev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, told reporters in Astrakhan that a majority of the attackers were “local inhabitants.” He added, “That is why they were in masks – they were afraid of being exposed” (Itar-Tass, June 24). Yakovlev’s conclusion dovetails with observations made by a number of eyewitnesses to the attacks (see EDM, June 23). The pro-separatist website has stated in reports and commentaries that the operation was carried out by “Chechen and Ingush mujahideen.”

The question of who led the attacks is also in dispute. According to Chechen Interior Minister Alum Alkhanov, the attackers were led by Magomed Evloev, an Ingush “Wahhabi” field commander allied with Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basayev. However, other sources said Doku Umarov, a Chechen field commander loyal to Basayev, led the operation. Ingush officials claim the attackers infiltrated into Ingushetia from Chechnya, but Alkhanov and other Chechen officials have denied this assertion (Kommersant, Golos Rossii,, June 24).

Whatever the case, some media have warned that, as one newspaper said, “an internecine war is ripening” in Ingushetia in the wake of the attacks (Novye Izvestia, June 24). The probability of such a conflict is heightened by the fact that in Ingushetia, as elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the vendetta tradition remains very much alive. Indeed, the brother of one of those killed in raids told the independent website, “We will look for each [attacker] and kill him. Ingush have always strictly observed the law of the vendetta and no one will escape retribution” (, June 23). According to the Ingushetian branch of the Memorial human rights group, “masked men” raided a Chechen refugee camp in Nazran on June 23. Raisa Isayeva, camp administrator, told Ekho Moskvy that men from the camp were “taken outside, forced to undress, and held on the ground facedown for several hours,” and that 34 people, including several 15-year-olds, were taken away. On June 24, the camp’s electricity, water, and gas were cut off, and refugees were ordered to vacate the camp within two days or it would be burned down, Isayeva told a radio station (MosNews, June 24).

A number of Moscow politicians and media have noted that the attacks in Ingushetia exposed serious flaws in Russia’s security and law-enforcement apparatus. Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya noted that Russia’s security services, along with the tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed in the Caucasus as well as local police, were caught off guard by the attacks, even though Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov had just days earlier declared that his forces were preparing a new offensive. “The system of protection is created only to demonstrate to the president that a fight is going on, but not actually to fight,” Politkovskaya wrote. “And it is precisely for this reason that people disappear without a trace — the thousands who have disappeared after meeting with unknown armed persons in camouflage and masks. This happens when it is necessary to produce the latest anti-terrorist accounting for those upstairs” (Novaya Gazeta, June 24).

It is hard to imagine 200 armed men slipping undetected into Israel, the U.S. or even Baghdad, wrote commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky. Yet he concluded that this is “the norm” for Russia. “Why, if in Moscow the Interior Ministry sleeps, traffic police are busy stealing cars, and regular cops are acting as kryshas for firms [i.e., extorting them-EDM] while ignoring the complaints of those stupid crime victims who bother to go to the police – why would these same cops and military men act any differently in such a situation in Chechnya? What the hell do they need that for? Their goal is to get money (they’re not paid on time) and return home in one piece.” Even strong Kremlin supporters have expressed similar concerns. Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a former FSB officer, said that while the Ingushetia raids were more a propaganda victory for the insurgents than a military one, “we are forced to admit that we really do not control the situation: neither the system of notification nor the system of rapid reaction are working; the bandits passed through all barriers like a knife through butter” (, June 24).