Chechen rebels attacked local police officers yesterday in the city of Argun, sparking a battle in the northeast section of the city. The attacking force was made up of approximately fifty rebel fighters, and local army units came to the aid of the besieged police officers. The battle in Argun, which is located 20 kilometers south of Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital, lasted thirty to forty minutes, and sources in Argun’s administration reported hearing intensive fire being exchanged and grenade explosions. According to the Russian side, around ten of the attackers were killed or wounded, and only six Russian servicemen wounded. Russian Interior Ministry troops blockaded the area where the attack took place and launched a zachistka, or antiguerrilla sweep, to apprehend those involved in the attack. Twenty local residents have reportedly been detained (Russian agencies, December 12).
As is usually the case, the Chechen rebel side’s version of what took place in Argun differs greatly from the Russian. According to the pro-rebel website Kavkaz.org, the battle in Argun began on December 9, when a mobile unit of the rebels’ Jundulla Islamic brigade attacked a small federal troop column that included three trucks and two armored personnel carriers. The attackers destroyed two cars and one APC in the initial attack, the website claimed, and later destroyed a car ferrying four officials of the Russian prosecutor’s office. Kavkaz.org claimed that the twenty-three Russian commandos were killed in the fighting in Argun yesterday alone and that a total of thirty Russian soldiers have been killed and several pieces of armor destroyed during the fighting in the city (Kavkaz.org, December 13).
In the meantime, the Chechen rebels have continued to target so-called “national traitors”–that is, those Chechens cooperating with the federal authorities. Yesterday, a special rebel unit carrying out a sentence handed down by the rebels’ Sharia court killed the military commandant of the village of Gekhi and his four bodyguards. This attack was not reported by Russian sources–the reason being, according to Kavkaz.org, that “real panic has broken out among the national traitors.” The rebels claim that over the last eight days, at the order of the Sharia court, at least ten officials of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration have been executed in various towns and villages around the republic–including Argun, Mesker-Yurt, Mairtup and Tsatsan-Yurt (Kavkaz.org, December 13).
Fighting has continued elsewhere in the republic. Russian artillery shelled wooded areas south of the city of Shali over December 7-8, while firing from automatic weapons and grenade explosions were heard in various districts of Djohar. According to the Djohar mayor’s office, the sound of gunfire and explosions is a regular phenomenon in the Chechen capital. Meanwhile the republic’s security forces plan to try out a system for patrolling Chechnya’s towns and villages. According to Said Pishkhoev, head of the republic’s Interior Ministry department, patrols will initially be carried out in one district of the capital, and once the Interior Ministry works out a coordinating mechanism with other “power structures” in the republic, such patrols will be employed throughout Chechnya. In the meantime, Chechnya’s cities, towns and villages remain outside anyone’s control at night (Kavkaz.org, December 13).
Meanwhile, the Russian state news agency Itar-Tass, citing unnamed sources in Chechnya’s law enforcement agencies, reported today that Khattab, the rebel field commander said to hail from either Jordan or Saudi Arabia, was wounded in the leg and shoulder a week ago during a battle in the settlement of Nikatakhoi in Chechnya’s Vedeno district. Khattab was said to be recovering in a mountain village in southeast Chechnya and still unable to walk by himself. Sources in the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin’s spokesman on Chechnya, said they had no information about Khattab having been wounded (NTV.ru, December 13).
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