Russian Security Services Erase Role of Magas in 2004 Beslan Attack

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 4

On February 8, the newspaper Kommersant shed light on the current situation of the prominent Ingush militant leader Emir Magas (aka Ali Taziev, Ahmed Yevloev) – the only high-profile militant leader captured by the Russian security services alive in the past few years. In June 2010, Magas was arrested in Ingushetia and transferred to the FSB’s (Federal Security Service) Lefortovo prison in Moscow, but since then the public has received very little information about the results of Magas’ interrogation. This is surprising because the Russian security services ascribed to him many terror attacks in the North Caucasus and Russia proper. According to source’s in the security services, Magas actively cooperated with investigators in an attempt to lessen his prison term but, in the end, it appeared that the FSB would still ask court to give him life imprisonment (, February 8).   

Magas was one of the most successful militant leaders in the North Caucasus. Soon after Shamil Basaev’s death in 2006, he was promoted to the position of Caucasus front commander by Doku Umarov and in 2007 he became the military Emir of the Caucasus. According to the Russian security services, Magas participated in planning and carrying out the massive attack on Ingushetia in June 2004; the hostage taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, in 2004; and numerous other high-profile attacks. In 2010 the Russian security services hailed the capture of Magas as a great success and, indeed, the level of attacks in Ingushetia decreased dramatically following his capture, although it is not yet possible to speak of stabilization in the tiny republic. Nor has the situation across the North Caucasus improved, with Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya and especially Dagestan becoming the most unstable republics.

Surprisingly, the initial charges brought against Magas were of relatively low severity, such as illegal arms possession, armed revolt, the creation of and participation in an illegal armed group and other similar crimes. The maximum prison term would have been within 20 years. According to the investigators, Ali Taziev (Magas), who was a police officer, defected to the rebels in 1998. The FSB took over the investigation of Taziev from the Russian Investigative Committee and charged him with staging an attack on Ingushetia’s governor, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in June 2009, blowing up the Nazran police headquarters in August 2009 and attacking a passenger bus in the neighboring Stavropol region in December 2007 (, February 8). The accusations against Taziev still appear to be relatively mild, given the previous statements of Russian officials about his involvement in rebel activities and the high regard in which he is held by the Caucasus Emirate leadership.

Taziev’s case stands out because unlike nearly all the other top rebel commanders, he was not killed. Moreover, judging by the charges brought against him, he received uncharacteristically soft treatment by the investigators. One explanation for the investigators’ approach may be that Taziev is actively cooperating with the investigation.

On January 24, a Russian court in Tver, near Moscow, heard the case of the bombing that derailed the Nevsky Express in November 2009. Twenty-eight people died and 90 were injured in this attack, the second targeting this high speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg. On March 2, 2010, eight people who were reportedly involved in the attack were killed in Ingushetia, including rebel ideologue Said Buryatsky (aka Aleksandr Tikhomirov). Another 10 people were arrested and accused of a conspiracy that led to the derailment of the Nevsky Express train. Ali Taziev was allegedly one of the “secret witnesses” who helped investigators to identify the perpetrators of the crime “beyond any doubt.” The suspects’ lawyer, however, said that the prosecution failed to provide any evidence of misconduct by the suspects apart from illegal arms possession (, January 25).

Before his capture, the Russian security services claimed they had killed Magas several times There was strong evidence he was present at the Beslan school in September 2004, but managed to escape before the security services reverted to storming the building, which caused the death of over 300 hostages. Ali Taziev’s family said they counted five different “Magases,” given that the security services periodically “killed” one “Magas” only to admit later that he was still alive. His family believed Taziev died in Chechnya after he was kidnapped in 1998 along with another police officer and a person they were supposed to be protecting (, May 18, 2006). The current attitude of Taziev’s family remains unknown.

While in custody, Taziev reportedly stated he did not become a militant “consciously,” but rather “under the pressure of circumstances.” Surprisingly, he also did not admit to being a Salafi either. The Ingush militant was reportedly checked for involvement in dozens of terrorist attacks, including the hostage taking in Beslan, but was not found linked to a majority of them (, February 8). Given the Russian court system’s remarkable and well-known ability to blame virtually anything on a suspect, the narrowness of the charges against Taziev is astounding. According to the official version, the Beslan hostage takers arrived in North Ossetia from Ingushetia, and the chances a prominent rebel leader like Magas did not know about this attack are very slim. Yet, the authorities may well have a vested interest in sweeping Magas’ role in Beslan under the carpet in order to avoid further probes into the conduct of the security forces and the government’s failure to prevent the 2004 terror attack.
The Beslan hostage attack and Magas’ possible role in it highlight the aspect of the strange symbiosis between the Russian security services and the rebels. Some attacks raise so many difficult questions that the government prefers to deny the rebels’ responsibility in order to avoid pressure from the public. To further restrict public knowledge, the trial of Magas will almost certainly be closed. This secretiveness in matters of vital public interest contributes to the self-perpetuating violence in the North Caucasus, as Russian security services free themselves completely from public oversight.