Rebels Respond to Kadyrov’s Threats with a Village Raid

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 32

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov vowed on August 3 that the republic’s rebels would be completely destroyed by the end of the year. “I responsibly declare that in the time remaining before the end of the year the problem of the remnants of the illegal armed formations will be fully resolved,” Interfax quoted him as saying at the opening of a military training center in his native town of Tsentoroi. “Not a single militant, or, as we call them, shaitan, will remain in Chechnya.” In what may have been a response, a group of rebels attacked the village of Tsa-Vedeno during the night of August 4-5, killing three people, including a two-year old boy, and burning three homes belonging to policemen. Kommersant, on August 6, quoted Dmitry Nikiforov, the acting head of the of the press center of the operational headquarters in Chechnya, as saying that approximately 10 rebels were involved in the attack and that they split into two groups – one of which headed for the homes of police and security officers in the village while the other setup a checkpoint at the village’s entrance. According to the newspaper, the attackers set up the checkpoint late at night when few people were driving in their cars, apparently hoping to stop law-enforcement or military personnel. However, the first vehicle they stopped was a Mercedes being driven by Zelimkhan Dzhabirov, the head of the legal department of a Grozny construction firm, and had two passengers – Nalchik resident Akhmed Eshiev and his two-year-old nephew, Artur, who were traveling to visit relatives in the area.

“Believing that he had been stopped by representatives of official power structures (the militants were in the same uniforms worn by spetsnaz), the driver Dhabirov not only stopped the car and got out of it, but presented his work ID,” Kommersant wrote. “However the militants, not waiting to figure out who they were dealing with, immediately opened fire with automatic rifles. Zelimkhan Dzhabirov was killed next to the car; his passengers [were killed inside it]. According to investigators, they may have been shot as undesirable witnesses: while Akhmed Eshiev lived in Nalchik for the last eight years, he was by birth from Vedeno and could have recognized someone among the militants. In order to cover their tracks completely, the militants burned the car.”

According to Kommersant, the second group of militants went to the homes of Yusup-Khadzhi Satovkhanov, a lieutenant with the Vedeno district criminal investigation department, and Saikhan Gatsaev, a member of the “Sever” battalion of the federal Interior Ministry’s Interior Troops. Not finding the servicemen at home, the militants forced their families out of the homes, which they then burned. “The militants beat the elders who tried to stop them,” the newspaper quoted local residents as saying. The locals also said that the militants were operating at a leisurely pace, but still left the village before military and police units arrived.

Nikiforov said the attack was carried out by a group of militants led by a 17-year-old Tsa-Vedeno resident, Turpal-Ali Dzhamalkhanov, who has been wanted since 2005 for an attack on police. Writing in Moskovsky komsomolets on August 7, Vadim Rechkalov reported that Turpal-Ali Dzhamalkhanov is in fact 27 and heads a gang made up of no more than six people that “was certainly operating with another gang in the attack on Tsa-Vedeno, if it was there at all.” Rechkalov reported that there are currently seven “bandit groups” totaling as many as 60 members operating in Chechnya’s Vedeno district.

Kommersant reported that law-enforcement officials believe the attack was an act of revenge for the reported killing of six rebels by members of the Vostok Battalion of the federal Defense Ministry’s 42nd Motorized Rifle Division during a special operation near the Vedeno district settlement of Tazen-Kale. The rebels killed in that operation reportedly answered directly to Dokka Umarov, the rebel leader and president of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) (Chechnya Weekly, July 26). Kommersant noted, however, that the rebel attack on Tsa-Vedeno may have had “a political subtext” given that with this “small but loud” action, the rebels managed to call attention to themselves immediately after Kadyrov’s vow to wipe them out before the end of the year.

Vadim Rechkalov, for his part, put the Tsa-Vedeno raid in the context of the increase in rebel activity since the spring. “Since then, Kadyrov and the bandits have been regularly challenging one another,” he wrote. “But Kadyrov’s position is much more complicated than the gunmen’s. Not only is he supposed to destroy them, but he also has to create the image of a peaceful life in the republic. Fortified checkpoints and peaceful life are incompatible. But the gunmen are posting their scouting parties at the dismantled federal checkpoints. Mountain villages without armored personnel carriers look entirely peaceful, but they are completely vulnerable to nocturnal raids.” (See Mayrbek Vachagaev’s article below.)

Kadyrov visited Tsa-Vedeno on August 5 and sacked the head of the Vedeno district’s department of internal affairs, Rasul Isaev, replacing him with Khizir Saipulaev, who was a company commander in the Chechen Interior Ministry’s PPSM-2 [Police Patrol-Post Service] regiment. As the Caucasus Times reported on August 6, Kadyrov said that in attacking Tsa-Vedeno, “the bandits tried to show that they are still capable of something, but as a result, they got dirty money and people’s condemnation.” He added that the “satans” who took the life of an innocent child “hold nothing sacred.” According to the website, Kadyrov attended the funerals of those who had been killed in the attack and gave 100,000 rubles (nearly $4,000) to each of the families of those killed and 500,000 rubles (nearly $20,000) to each family whose house was destroyed.

Kommersant, on August 7, quoted Nikolai Kalugin, who is acting as Chechnya’s chief prosecutor while Valery Kuznetsov is on vacation, as saying that the republic’s law-enforcement system in general bears responsibility for the Tsa-Vedeno attack. “Operational information that an attack was in the offing was not received and preventive measures to avert it were not taken,” he said. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said on August 7 that the names of those who took part in the attack on Tsa-Vedeno were already known and expressed confidence they would soon be captured, RIA Novosti reported.

The separatist Kavkaz-Center website, for its part, posted an item on August 8 stating that the spokesman of the Southeastern Front of ChRI Armed Forces had “confirmed that on the night of August 5, a Special Operational Group (SOG) conducted a pinpoint operation in the village of Tsa-Vedeno, in which three houses belonging to active members of the ‘Sever’ munafiq [hypocrite] gang were burned down.” The website also claimed that in carrying out the rebel Sharia Court’s ruling sanctioning the destruction of the homes, “mujahideen brought out the family members of munafiqs (women, men, children) without causing harm to them.”

As for the murder of Zelimkhan Dzhabirov, Akhmed Eshiev and his two-year-old nephew, and the burning of the Mercedes in which they were traveling, Kavkaz-Center quoted a spokesman for the Chechen command as saying: “We officially state that the mujahideen had nothing to do with the murders. We do not know these people [the victims] and the Chechen authorities do not have any complaints against them.” The website stated it was able to “confirm” that “three civilians, including a child, were killed a few hours after the mujahideen had left the village” by “the kafirs [infidels] and munafiqs who entered the village after the mujahideen had left and conducted a so-called ‘cleansing operation.’” After discovering that it did not belong to the rebels, they burned the Mercedes.

According to Kavkaz-Center, two of those killed in Tsa-Vedeno – Akhmed Eshiev and the two-year-old Artur (who, according to the website, were father and son, not uncle and nephew) – had long ago moved outside of Chechnya because Kadyrov had killed 24 members of their extended family, including women and young children, after coming into conflict with Akhmed Eshiev’s bodyguard.

The Tsa-Vedeno raid was not the only act of violence in Chechnya during the past week. Agence France-Presse reported on August 8 that two Russian servicemen had been killed the previous day in Grozny. The news agency quoted Chechen police spokesman Amin Deniev as saying that “criminals” had opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on Russian Interior Ministry forces, killing two soldiers. He also said that police in the village of Gekhi had found and destroyed a homemade bomb that was the equivalent of 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of TNT. RIA Novosti reported on August 5 that two rebels were killed and two policemen slightly wounded in a shootout on the outskirts of the village of Staryi Achkhoi in the Achkhoi-Martan district. Ekho Moskvy reported on August 4 that unknown attackers had fired on the commandant’s office of the Interior Ministry’s Interior Troops in the town of Shali. According to the radio station, two civilians were wounded by shrapnel from the grenades fired by the attackers, while no servicemen were hit in the attack.

Rebel leader Dokka Umarov said in a statement posted on the Kavkaz-Center website on July 30 that his forces are “ready for any kind of big event,” are capable of conducting “large-scale military operations” and will “act in such a way that will be beneficial for us and when we will decide that we need to act.” He also claimed that there has been “a large influx of young mujahideen” into the rebel ranks as of late.

Kavkaz-Center claimed on August 6 that Umarov visited Grozny on August 4, holding a conference with the commander of the Central Front of the ChRI Armed Forces, Abubakar Basayev, and several “amirs.” The separatist website quoted an unidentified source as saying that Umarov was accompanied by his personal guard and a special protection unit and visited several districts of the capital, where he met with local residents.

“One of the meetings with inhabitants of Jokhar [Grozny] took place next to the Press Building,” Kaka-Center reported. “Tens of people were able to meet with the President of the ChRI and to ask questions. The appearance of Dokka Umarov in Jokhar created panic among the invaders and their stooges, as well as rumors about a forthcoming assault on the capital by units from the ChRI Armed Forces. The invaders began to advance armored vehicles and to transport troops from Khankala and Sheikh Mansur Airport.” The rebel website claimed that the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities set up roadblocks reinforced with armored vehicles on many roads and crossroads, and that “munafiqs” [or hypocrites, as the rebels call the pro-Moscow Chechen forces] “hastily moved” their families to Moscow, Rostov and Nalchik, among other places.

August 6 was the eleventh anniversary of Operation Jihad, the large-scale rebel assault on Grozny in 1996 that led to the final ceasefire in the first Chechen war. (See Mayrbek Vachagaev’s article below.)