Russian Officials Fear Caucasus Attacks Could Spread Westward

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 63

Late on the evening of July 28, martial law was declared in Kabardino-Balkaria. According to Radio Liberty, all security forces, police, and internal troops were put on alert. Police stations, hospitals, and public transportation facilities were placed under heavy guard. A correspondent from a radio station in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, said that local authorities were bracing for a possible attack by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and his troops. Local law-enforcements agencies deny that a state of emergency is in force, although they did acknowledge that anti-terrorist military exercises have been ongoing in the region since July 20.

Radical Islam is spreading rapidly through Kabardino-Balkaria, and local authorities have responded by declaring a war against Wahhabism. Local Islamic leaders increasingly complain of oppression (Gazeta, July 19). Some young Muslims told a correspondent from the Russian NTV “Namedni” program that police units conduct “mopping-up” operations in mosques during traditional Friday prayers. According to the Caucasus Times, the Kabardino-Balkaria government even issued a decree permitting Muslims to go to mosques only on Friday and limiting prayers to 40 minutes.

Last August Shamil Basaev visited Kabardino-Balkaria and spent about two weeks in the northern town of Baksan. Basaev’s whereabouts were unexpectedly revealed to police and security officers in the course of testimony by Zarema Mahadzieva, a Chechen woman who had attempted to blow herself in Moscow (Russkiy kurier August 2003). Two days later, special police and Federal Security Service units surrounded the hideout, but Basaev and two associates managed to escape. In the frenzy of their retreat, Hamid Basaev, Shamil’s nephew and chief of his personal guard, blew himself up while attacking the local police chief. Wounded in both legs, Shamil Basaev drove a carjacked BMW into the mountains. Rumors say that Basaev was in the area to create a local network of underground Islamic paramilitary groups (Jamaats) that are ready to carry out any order.

Whether or not martial law exists in Kabardino-Balkaria, officials in both Nalchik and Moscow have indicated their fear that the wave of attacks will spread from the eastern part of the Caucasus (Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan) toward the west. If this happens, there will be a war zone stretching from the Caspian to the Black Sea.