On June 21 assassinations rocked the city of Khasavyurt, in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Saigidsalim Zabitov, head of the local police organized crime division, was shot dead together with Shamsudin Kachakaev, a policeman who was accompanying him. Rebels ambushed their car late at night as Zabitov returned home.
According to Kommersant, the rebels had been hunting Zabitov for two years, finally succeeding on their fourth attempt. In 2004 gunmen planted an explosive device on a street that Zabitov usually passed on his way to work, but that day he took a different route. Next the rebels tried to plant a bomb near his house, but the bomb detonated accidentally, killing the rebel planting the mine in front of the gate to Zabitov’s house. In 2005 Zabitov was shot in the hip but survived. He was regarded as one of the most ruthless fighters against local militants, and had helped eliminate Chechen field commander Anvar Visaev and Abdullah Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen and Dagestani rebel groups in Khasavyurt. On October 1, 2005, Zabitov headed a special operation against a rebel group in the village of Tortuybi-Kala (Kommersant, June 22).
Zabitov’s death follows that of his colleague, Dzhabrail Kostoev, in Ingushetia, another restive North Caucasus republic. Like Zabitov, Kostoev had battled the Ingush insurgency, although his drive was fueled by the deaths of two of his brothers, policemen who were killed during the rebel assault on Ingushetia in June 2004 (Kommersant, May 18). The first attempt to kill Kostoev was made in 2005, when he was the police chief of Nazran. A roadside bomb hit his car, wounding him, but Dzhabrail managed to survive. Kostoev refused to be cowed by the militants and did not hesitate to assist the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in fighting the Ingush and Chechen insurgents. Before he was killed by a car bomb in May, Dzhabrail Kostoev had been named first deputy interior minister of Ingushetia.
The assassinations of Zabitov in Dagestan and Kostoev in Ingushetia were not the only insurgency operations this year targeting senior police officers in the North Caucasus. In March Magomed Magomedov, a deputy head of Dagestan’s criminal investigation department, and two other senior officers from the organized crime division were killed. Musa Nalgiev, commander of the Ingush police special-task unit was shot dead in Ingushetia on June 9, and two months earlier, on April 12, rebels fired two shots at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism department in the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, using disposable grenade launchers. Official reports say that a soldier in the watch tower near the headquarters was killed, but locals told Regnum news agency that the second shot had destroyed a car parked at the facility, killing two officers inside the vehicle (Regnum, April 12). The officers were likely the primary target of the attack.
In May rebel leaders described their new tactics to the media. Just two days before the assassination of Kostoev, the Kavkaz Center website posted an interview with Amir Magas, the commander of the Ingush insurgency. Magas said that Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev had convened a meeting of the North Caucasus rebel commanders in Chechnya during which he called on rebel factions to set up special operations groups all over the Caucasian front, which should target personalities and conduct operations to destroy objects planned in advance. Magas called the formation of these groups an adequate response to the FSB activities in the region (Kavkaz Center, May 15).
Indeed, their name, Special Operations Groups, sounds very similar to the Unified Special Groups (or SSG in Russian) of the FSB and the Russian Interior Ministry that operate in the North Caucasus. These SSGs are subject to the Operations and Coordination Directorate of FSB whose headquarters are located in the town of Pyatigorsk in Stavropol Krai (the ethnic-Russian-dominated region of the North Caucasus) or to the Regional Operations Anti-Terrorist Staff headquartered in Khankala, a Russian main military base in Chechnya (Novaya gazeta, January 19). These Unified
Special Groups are usually those unidentified masked men whom human rights organizations like to talk about and who enter houses in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, or Dagestan to detain those whom they suspect in rebel activity. By giving a similar name to his special squads Basaev wants to demonstrate the capability of his forces and that the rebels are not weaker in the Caucasus than the Russian security officials.
Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader killed last March, often said that the Russian army is just a primitive force and the FSB and Russian military intelligence are the brains of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus. However, the FSB will also become a benign force without information provided by local police in the region. That is why the rebels target senior police officers, diligent individuals who work hard against them. Basaev and his commanders know that weakening local police forces will in turn weaken FSB activity in the region, and weak Russian intelligence will ultimately weak the Kremlin’s control over the North Caucasus.