On May 8, a seminar on fighting crime was held in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, a North Caucasian republic. The seminar, “Modern Russian Society: Burning Issues of Fighting Crime,” was divided into four sections: terrorism; drug trafficking; historical, judicial, philosophic, and criminological aspects of crime; and the Russian Criminal Code. The focus was on fighting terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism, since insurgencies continue to be the main source of destabilization in the North Caucasus. High-ranking officials from the Kabardino-Balkarian police as well as staff from the North Caucasus police academies took part in the seminar to discuss ways of countering regional rebels and their ideology.
The Russian authorities apparently did not want wide media coverage of the event. In fact only Kavkazky Uzel, virtually the only independent agency in Russia that specializes in news from the Caucasus, made a detailed report about the seminar. According to Kavkazky Uzel, the police officers who attended the seminar were not very optimistic when talking about the situation in the North Caucasus.
Colonel Anatoly Kyarov, head of the Organized Crime Department of the Kabardinian Interior Ministry, warned, “The insurgents could unite their forces in Kabardino-Balkaria and in the whole North Caucasus.”
According to Kyarov, the rising popularity of Islam in the late 1980s and the practice of training local youth in Muslim schools in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey gave rise to the armed rebellion in the region. The colonel blamed foreign Islamic organizations that, he claimed, “have set additional conditions for spreading extremism in the republic and financed religious and extremist activities” (Kavkazky uzel, May 14).
At the same time, he also recognized the influence of neighboring Chechnya, noting that militant Islam became especially popular during the two Russian military campaigns in Chechnya (1994-96 and 1999-2000). Dozens of Kabardino-Balkaria residents took part in the Chechen wars on the side of the separatists.
Kyarov rejected accusations that the closure of many mosques in the republic, which he personally initiated, had provoked an armed uprising of local Muslims and a rebel raid on Nalchik in October 2005. The colonel insisted, “By the end of the 1990s mosques in the region had been turned into centers of spreading the ideology of religious extremism, terrorist training, and arms caches.”
However, another police official, Major-General Aslanbek Khaupshev, deputy interior minister for economic security, argued that the closure of the mosques had played into the hands of the terrorists. Khaupshev called for reopening the mosques to encourage a more tolerant form of Islam and to control the local Muslim community.
Khaupshev complained of poor intelligence and lack of information about the insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria. “Neither the amount of seized weapons, nor the number of eliminated gunmen can be criteria [to gauge] the efficiency of the law-enforcement bodies. The only criteria are the decreasing number of terrorist crimes and the number of cases under investigation.” Khaupshev added that the rebels continued to recruit youth in the republic and to agitate for “jihad.” Interestingly, Khaupshev said one reason for terrorism spreading in Kabardino-Balkaria is the “large concentration of military bases and weapons depots in the region, and rampant crime among the military linked with the arms trade.” This was the first time in many years that a Russian official openly admitted that the rebels in the North Caucasus were supplied by corrupt soldiers and not by al-Qaeda.
Kabardinian Interior Minister Yuri Tomchak complained that the local population does not trust local law-enforcement agencies. He conceded, “Only popular trust in the law-enforcement bodies would help to establish an effective system of getting information from the grass roots.”
Indeed, poor intelligence and lack of information continue to be one of the main problems of the security officials in Kabardino-Balkaria. Last February Arkady Yedelev, the commander of the Russian anti-terrorist forces in the North Caucasus, told Rossiiskaya gazeta that two rebel groups operate in the republic and that both are well-prepared and well-hidden (Rossiiskaya gazeta, February 2). In fact, the reason security officials have only caught one gunman in Kabardino-Balkaria this year may simply be that the militants have not been very active. When the rebels do not attack, it is very hard for the military or police to detect them.
In a statement that was posted on the rebel Kavkaz Center website last year, Musa Mukozhev, a spiritual leader and an ideologist of the Kabardinian insurgency (see Chechnya Weekly, November 22, 2006) called upon the local Muslims to avoid local mosques if they want to avoid police surveillance. Anzor Astemirov, the military commander of the Kabardinian militancy, declared that it would be better for a Muslim to eat pork or drink wine than to serve infidels. He called upon local Muslims to infiltrate the police, hide their religious beliefs to escape detection, and gather intelligence that might be useful for the rebels. Astemirov also said that the rebels could follow their religious duty to pray five times a day by praying secretly in a car or lying on the ground (Kavkaz Center, May 16).
Local officials in Kabardino-Balkaria are finding it difficult to comply with new instructions from the Kremlin to search for rebels without resorting to mass arrests and human rights violations. The local FSB and the police suspect that the insurgency is planning for some sort of event in the region, but they are unable to find ways to pre-empt their moves. The seminar held in Nalchik is thus the latest attempt by the authorities to express their fears to the public and ask the local population to help them fight the militants.