One rebel was killed and two detained on December 25 during a gunfight with security forces in Cherkessk, the capital of Karachaevo-Cherkessk, on December 25. The Associated Press reported that authorities surrounded the five-story apartment building where the four alleged militants were believed to be hiding and opened fire with guns, grenades, armored vehicles and flamethrowers. According to the news agency, nearby streets were cordoned off and a neighborhood school was closed, but not all residents of the building were evacuated. Anna Lyzina, spokeswoman for the regional branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said that the suspected militants were believed to belong to a group that was involved in killing local police officers.
However, making matters murkier, an anonymous Interior Ministry source told the AP that the militants were hiding in an apartment belonging to a key figure in the case involving the 2004 murder of seven Karachaevo-Cherkessia businessmen, which sparked mass protests against the republic’s president, Mustafa Batdyev, whose former son-in-law, Ali Kaitov, was charged with murder in the case. Protesters accused Batdyev of a cover-up. A court found Kaitov guilty of the murders on December 27 and sentenced him to 17 years in prison.
ITAR-TASS named the gunman killed in the shootout as Timur Tokov, a follower of Achmez Gochiyaev, the militant who was put on Russia’s wanted list for allegedly organizing the bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, which killed 352 people. As Newsru.com noted on December 25, Gochiyaev denied involvement in those terrorist acts in a letter that was made public by former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in 2002. In the letter, Gochiyaev also denied having any links to either Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev or Khattab, the Saudi-born Chechen rebel field commander. Khattab was killed in 2002, while both Basaev and Litvinenko were killed in 2006.