Interfax reported on November 21 that representatives of some 20 human rights and youth organizations as well as Grozny college students were holding a demonstration in downtown Grozny to protest the killing of local residents in the villages of Staraya Sunzha and Starye Atagi by Russian forces. The demonstrators demanded that armored personnel carriers be banned from the streets of the Chechen capital, unnecessary checkpoints be dismantled, joint patrols of Chechen Interior Ministry and OMON servicemen be placed at the remaining checkpoints and that federal servicemen be held accountable to the law.
The incidents being protested were the accidental shelling of Starye Atagi on November 9, which wounded six residents—four women, an eight-year-old girl and a man—and destroyed eight homes (see Chechnya Weekly, November 10), and the murder of three residents of Staraya Sunzha just outside Grozny on November 16. In the latter incident, 10 unidentified gunmen reportedly forced three Staraya Sunzha villagers—Yusup Usmanov, Khusein Akhmadov and Dzhambulat Dushaev—to lie down face first on the ground and then shot them in the head A fourth villager was wounded but managed to hide and give an account of the incident. Newsru.com on November 18 quoted a Defense Ministry source as confirming that the killers were Russian servicemen and had been arrested. The website also quoted a Chechen law enforcement source as saying that the murdered villagers were Chechen Interior Ministry employees. Interfax on November 18 quoted Staraya Sunzha administration head Rizvan Masaev as saying on local television the previous day: “The servicemen shot three cars; the wounded were laid on the ground and then shot with automatic weapons. All of them [the servicemen] were intoxicated.”
According to an account published in the Los Angeles Times on November 20, the incident took place after drunken Russian soldiers began flagging down cars in Staraya Sunzha and demanding money. “Witnesses said the soldiers opened fire without provocation and then apparently turned on their victims with bayonets,” the newspaper reported. It quoted a villager who was shot in the leg in the incident as saying that one of the servicemen involved in the attack had told him that his brother had been killed in Chechnya and said: “Maybe it was you who killed my brother.”
Gen. Yevgeny Lazebin, commander of the Operational Group of Forces (OGV) in the North Caucasus, said during a Chechen Security Council meeting on November 21 chaired by Chechen President Alu Alkhanov that the murder of the three civilians in Staraya Sunzha was “a case that can have no excuse.” “The serviceman who opened fire at the civilians had twice been convicted before he joined the army,” Lazebin said. He called the bombardment of Starye Atagi on November 9 “a criminal mistake by a serviceman who was targeting an artillery cannon.” The OGV’s military prosecutor, Maxim Toporikov, told Interfax that the three servicemen responsible for the Staraya Sunzha murders had been arrested and had confessed to their actions.