Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 35

The separatist Kavkazcenter.com website on September 12 posted a statement by the “Jamaat of Ossetian mujahideen ‘Kataib al Khoul’” claiming that they were responsible for the crash the previous day of an Mi-8 Russian military helicopter. The chopper with three crew members and 12 senior officers of the North Caucasian Military District crashed on September 11 on the southern outskirts of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. The crash killed 11 of those on board. The helicopter’s pilot was among the four people who survived. “The helicopter was brought down by the mujahideen by means of a PZRK [Perenosnoi Zenitny-Raketny Kompleks or “hand-held anti-aircraft complex”], the launch of which was personally carried out by the emir of the jamaat ‘Kataib al Khoul’, Saad,” the claim read.

On September 11, Reuters quoted Vesti 24 television as saying that the Mi-8 crashed after losing its bearings in fog and clipping trees with its rotors. Likewise, Kommersant on September 13 quoted Gen. Aleksandr Baranov, commander of the North Caucasian Military District, as saying that the helicopter likely crashed because of mistakes made by its crew in bad weather conditions. The newspaper reported that a number of “flagrant violations of flight safety regulations” had taken place during the Mi-8’s flight and that prosecutors investigating the crash had made no mention of terrorism, although it was not being ruled out. NTV on September 12 quoted Aleksandr Devyatko, head of a directorate in the Russian Federation Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, as saying that investigators were not “giving priority” to any particular theory for why the helicopter crashed, but that “actions by illegal armed groups” were not being ruled out as the cause.

Meanwhile, the parliament of North Ossetia denied the existence of an Ossetian jamaat and dismissed press reports about the Kataib al Khoul claim of responsibility for the crash of the Mi-8 helicopter near Vladikavkaz as “disinformation.” “We are profoundly indignant at the fact that they are trying to attach a certain non-existent Ossetian jamaat to the Ossetian people,” the North Ossetian parliament’s council said in a statement signed by the parliament’s speaker, Larisa Khabitsovaya. “We have always been and multi-ethnic and multi-confessional republic, but we do not have a breeding ground for the appearance of any kinds of mujahideen…The deputies of the republic’s parliament are indignant at the blasphemous attempts to put in the same ranks as terrorists a people that experienced first-hand the consequences of their [the terrorists’] bestial cruelty during the Beslan tragedy.” The statement said that law-enforcement bodies had repeatedly looked into claims that an Ossetian jamaat existed in the republic and concluded that it did not exist. “Anti-Russian forces in the North Caucasus have for a long time attempted by any means to smear the Ossetian people with a mythological participation in terrorist activity. To this end, they do not shrink from using lies about an ‘Ossetian Jamaat’ which, according to information that has been checked repeatedly by the relevant authorities, does not and cannot exist in Ossetia.”

In July, the “mujahideen of the Ossetian ‘Jamaat Kataib al Khoul’” claimed responsibility for an attack on a GIBDD (Federal Road Safety Service) traffic police post near Ingushetia’s administrative border with North Ossetia in which two Ingush policemen were seriously wounded and for the killing of one North Ossetian police officer and wounding two. The latter incident took place when North Ossetian police tried to arrest a police officer suspected of working for the rebels, who then blew himself up (Chechnya Weekly, July 27). In April, the group claimed responsibility for an armed robbery in Vladikavkaz, during which a policeman was shot to death (Chechnya Weekly, April 13). In February, an Ossetian jamaat headed by an “emir Saad” claimed responsibility for bomb blasts in casinos and gambling clubs in the center of Vladikavkaz that killed at least one person (Chechnya Weekly, February 9).