After months of relative quiet, there have been unexpected reports in recent weeks of battles with militants in Ingushetia, Russia’s smallest republic. Among other reported incidents, police officers were apparently wounded during a special operation in the republic’s foothills in May (Echo.msk.ru, May 23), and a car was fired on from a hideout in Ingushetia in June (Newsru.com, June 19). Since the beginning of 2010—i.e., after the arrest of the local insurgent leader, Amir Magas (Ali Taziev/Magomed Yevloev) (Rosbalt, June 10, 2010)—the activities of the rebels in Ingushetia, who under Magas had been one of the strongest rebel forces in the North Caucasus, steadily have declined. This trend was also observed in other jamaats of the North Caucasus, with the possible exception of the Dagestani jamaat (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 26).
News reports about a counter-terrorism operation regime being introduced in the city of Nazran on June 25, therefore, came as a surprise to many observers. The operation was actually officially declared after it was over and the suspected rebels were killed: indeed, news agencies reported about the operation an hour after its conclusion. The National Antiterrorist Committee (NAK) reported that the security services had received a tip that recruiters for an international terrorist organization were in a private home. Special forces of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Ministry of Interior (MVD) sealed off the house. In response to a call that they surrender, the militants in the house allegedly threw a hand grenade and fired shots at the government forces. The rebels were killed after a short gun battle (Topwar.ru, June 25).
That, at any rate, was the official account of what happened in the hours immediately following the special operation. The official information suggests Ingushetia’s local police were not notified and did not directly take part in the special operation. This indicates the low degree of trust the federal authorities have in the local police forces when it comes to special operations in Ingushetia. This attitude is quite common across the North Caucasus, where federal agencies use local police only as auxiliary forces for guarding the outer security layer during special operations.
It is unclear why the government forces had to kill the suspects if they were not rebels, but simply recruiters for the Islamic State (IS). The suspected recruiters apparently did not have an illegal status. Subsequently, the slain individuals were identified as members of the Aliev family—43-year-old Magomed-Ali and his wife, 36-year-old Leila. Government sources later added that the couple returned to Ingushetia from Ukraine, where they had taken part in the armed conflict on the side of Ukrainian nationalist organizations (Lifenews.ru, June 25). However, people fighting on the Ukrainian side have already made a choice against jihadism and in favor of war against Russia. Thus, Muslims who have fought on the Ukrainian side are the least likely to recruit people for the Islamic State upon their return home to the North Caucasus.
An Ingush opposition website posted a video of the ruins of the house that was destroyed during the special operation. The brother of the slain man stated that the special operation was not implemented as described by the NAK. The brother said he saw the security services force his brother up against the wall and beat him up, demanding that he admit to recruiting young people for the Islamic State. He said he heard an explosion a little later and was told that his sister-in-law had blown herself up with an explosive device (YouTube, June 25).
Another strange aspect of this story is the fact that there was no fighting, as the suspects, the Alievs, were arrested in their own backyard and did not resist the government forces. It is also unclear why Leila blew herself up and did so in such a circumscribed fashion that none of the servicemen were hurt by the explosion. The brother of Magomed-Ali Aliev said that about 50 servicemen were in the house, so it can be assumed that, having shot the husband, the government agents then blew up his wife and portrayed her as the second rebel. The authorities announced that one of the two dead suspects was wearing a suicide bomber’s belt, without specifying exactly which one (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 25).
A day and a half later, the regional branch of the Investigative Committee offered another account of events. “Two local residents, who were armed with a Makarov handgun and an IED [improvised explosive device], resisted the officers of Ingushetia’s FSB,” it said, adding that after the security forces returned fire, the house that the two suspects were in blew up, killing both of them (Vestnik Kavkaza, June 26). Thus, the Investigative Committee’s account of what happened is quite different from what the NAK said. This suggests the federal agencies had few contacts with one another and thus offered two completely different accounts of the events surrounding the killing of the Alievs in Nazran on June 25.
The reality appears to be that the incident simply involved the shooting of two residents of Ingushetia, and the story that they had resisted security forces was invented by the government agencies to cover up the real motive for their crime. Thus, this special operation illustrated that Russia’s anti-terrorism efforts are by no means always justified. Incidents of this kind will certainly not win the Russian authorities greater approval in the North Caucasus.