Russian Media Fails to Conceal New Upsurge in Militant Activity

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 35

Recent developments in the North Caucasus covered in the mass media focused primarily on Dagestan and Ingushetia. The first news item, concerning the assassination of the Dagestan Jamaat (Dagestan section of the Caucasus Emirate) commander Abdul-Majjid, aka Ilgar Malachiev (Gazeta.ru, September 7), may potentially trigger substantial changes within the resistance movement’s structure. The fact is that the replacement of any prominent jamaat leader at the republican level invariably leads to other adjustments within the movement in general. These changes cannot fail to affect the rank-and-file rebel soldiers as the whole network of linkages connected to a given jamaat leader begins to unravel.

It comes as no surprise that any newly-appointed leader tends to focus on his own region. That was certainly the case during Abdul-Majjid’s appointment in September 2007 after his predecessor Amir Rappani Khalilov was killed during a special operation carried out by the Russian forces in Kizilyurt on September 17, 2007 (Lenta.ru, September 18, 2007). At the time, the appointment of Khalilov’s replacement set off a number of unwelcome developments in Dagestan. It was Amir Abdul-Majjid’s efforts that led to the expansion of the resistance movement’s operations into the southernmost parts of Dagestan, such as the city of Derbent and the areas adjacent to the border with Azerbaijan. A native of Zakaty (Azerbaijan), Abdul-Majjid did not set up a jamaat cell in southern Dagestan, but in all likelihood has managed to establish one across the border in Azerbaijan. The significance of the latter was that for the first time, the North Caucasus resistance movement has crossed regional boundaries and extended its efforts into the South Caucasus. It is still difficult to say whether the cell in the South Caucasus was a well-established jamaat unit, a novice group still in the planning stages in its new location or a handful of fighters who traveled to the South Caucasus for a quick break, which is just as plausible.

In any event, the areas adjacent to the Russo-Azerbaijani border are home to the Lezgin and Tabasaran ethnic communities who continue to maintain close contacts, often bypassing the boundaries that separate them. The area was also the location of the jamaat unit targeted by Azeri forces during a special operation of August 29-30 (Kavkaz.tv, September 2) in which government troops suffered some losses while the rebels managed to break the siege and escape unharmed. Presumably, the jamaat fighters, while on the run from the Azeri troops, crossed the Russian border into Dagestan, where they ran into the waiting trap of Russian special operations forces who had much better luck than their Azeri colleagues. The government reports of the Dagestan Jamaat commander’s death were confirmed several days later—possibly an indication of coordination challenges within the Sharia Jamaat after the loss of its commander (www.jamaatshariat.com, September 11), or of short-term communications breakdown before the appointment of Abdul-Majjid’s replacement, who would have to reclaim and take charge of all late commander’s connections. In a statement confirming Abdul-Majjid’s death, the Sharia Jamaat also claimed responsibility for the slaying of Dagestani reporter Telman Alishaev (http://media.rin.ru, September 3; North Caucasus Weekly, September 5) reportedly killed for leaving Islam (http://www.jamaatshariat.com/content/view/869/41).

In the meantime, Ingush President Murat Zyazikov made another stab at making one and all believe that Ingushetia is faring better than any other place. Oddly enough, Zyazikov blamed all Ingushetia’s problems on the United States. Zyazikov declared during a September 8 press conference with Itar-Tass that “for some reason, Comrade Bush has developed affection for faraway Ingushetia.” With enough daily incidents to make prioritizing them a challenge, if Ingushetia really is the most peaceful part of Russia, then the state of affairs in the less peaceful areas can be only imagined.

For example, the following seven incidents took place in Ingushetia on September 11 alone:

– gunfire targeting the residence of President Murat Zyazikov in the village of Barsuki;

– an explosion at a gas station in the city of Nazran;

– a bombing targeting Malgobek imam Hussein Shadiev (his leg was amputated as a result of the explosion);

– an evening shootout in Nazran;

– another evening shootout at the Ekazhevo post;

– an assassination attempt against Ibrahim Khalukhaev, son of the dean of the Institute for Economics and Law Sulambek Khalukhaev; an attempt was made on his father’s life the previous day;

– shots fired at the house of Daud Atigov, the brother of the chairman of Daymohk (Motherland) Ingush International Union.

This list includes only the incidents that were made public through the efforts of the opposition web site www.ingushetiya.ru. To make it clear that September 11 was not an exception to the rule, one can point out that the previous day, September 10, Murat Zyazikov’s cousin was assassinated, which in and of itself is less important than the fact that the victim was also the brother of the Chief of President’s personal security detail, meaning that the murder was clearly directed personally against President Zyazikov (www.newsru.com, September 10). There were other such incidents on September 10, including a shooting that wounded the dean of the Institute for Economics and Law Sulambek Khalukhaev and the killing of a fortune teller in the village of Troitskaya.

Ingushetiya.ru also reported a rather odd bit of news—that 44 employees of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry had resigned on September 1, with another 27 members of the police force resigning on September 9. These reports stand in glaring contradiction to statements made by President Zyazikov.

In an unexpected turn of events, Ramzan Kadyrov made a surprise statement in support of the president of his neighboring republic, offering his reassurances that in the next few months, law and order will be restored in Ingushetia and “the wave of chaos” will subside. In effect, the Chechen leader, in an effort to give a boost to his neighbor, simply confirmed that a “wave of chaos” is indeed crashing over Ingushetia. Naturally, Kadyrov neglected to comment on the bombing of the Russian military base in the town of Vedeno on September 3 that left one serviceman dead and 11 wounded. He was also silent about the suicide bombing the same day at the base of the Yug Special Battalion, which killed one battalion member and wounded several others. Kavkaz-Center (www.kavkazcenter.com), the official mouthpiece of the radical wing of the North Caucasus resistance movement, releases daily reports of losses allegedly suffered by the Russian side. However, since most of these reports are difficult to corroborate, they can be considered but not relied on.

While the events of the past week were neither new nor sensational, the rebel fighters’ activities along the Dagestan-Kabardino-Balkaria perimeter suggest yet again that their operations, far from being isolated incidents, are far better organized than the Russian mass media would care to admit, and therefore the Russian army’s presence in the region is a strategically motivated decision.