Nikolai Gryaznov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate in Dagestan, said on January 17 that the body of Rasul Makasharipov, a.k.a. “Muslim,” was among the remains of five militants recovered in the ruins of a house in a village located on the outskirts of the republican capital of Makhachkala, where a shoot-out with security forces lasting more than 15 hours took place on January 15-16, Itar-Tass reported.
According to the FSB, Makasharipov was a close associate of Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev who earlier served as interpreter for Khattab, the Saudi-born militant who reportedly led the Islamist fighters who invaded Dagestan in August 1999 jointly with Basaev. Makasharipov was reportedly a leader of “Jannet” (“paradise” in Arabic), a group that had in recent years assassinated a number of local law-enforcement officers and government officials. Among the victims of “Jannet” were 29 members of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s anti-terrorism directorate, including its chief, Akhberdilav Akilov, and Dagestan’s minister for national policy, information and external affairs, Magomedsalikh Gusaev. After most of the members of “Jannet” were arrested or killed, Makasharipov formed the “Jamaat of Dagestan ‘Shariat’,” which claimed responsibility for the December 27 and December 30 attacks that killed four people, including three of Dagestan’s Interior Ministry officers (see Chechnya Weekly, January 5). Gryaznov noted that the information that Makasharipov was among the dead gunmen was “unofficial” and awaited confirmation by “forensic examination.” Earlier, a Dagestani Interior Ministry source had told a Kavkazky Uzel website correspondent that Makasharipov was not in the besieged house.
Interfax reported on January 15 that the siege began early that morning in the village of Separatorny, located on Makhachkala’s outskirts, after a police unit acting on a tip ran into the five militants, who opened fire and then seized a private house. Kommersant reported on January 17 that after security forces surrounded the house, the gunmen escaped and took over a two-story house nearby, taking several residents hostage. But one of the hostages, Magomed Kamalov, told the newspaper that the gunmen released him and the other hostages with a message to Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov that they would not surrender but would not harm anyone if they were allowed to leave the area. That request was ignored, and the long shoot-out ensued, during which an officer of the elite Alfa anti-terror commando unit was killed and two others were wounded. According to the Associated Press, hundreds of police and other security forces backed by armored vehicles and a helicopter gunship were involved in the operation, but the gunmen fended off all attacks from the building’s concrete basement. The battle finally ended when a tank was sent in to destroy what remained of the house.
Along with the Separatorny incident, another siege took place on January 15, in the Dagestani port city of Kaspiisk. Commandos from republican Interior Ministry OMON and SOBR special forces units tried to sneak up on an apartment building where several militants were hold up – among them Magomedzagir Akaev, the brother-in-law of Rappani Khalilov, a Dagestani Islamist believed responsible for the May 9, 2002 bombing of Victory Day parade in Kaspiisk that killed 41 people. The Dagestani Interior Minsitry’s press service told Itar-Tass on January 15 that Col. Arzulum Ilyasov, commander of Dagestan’s SOBR unit, and two SOBR lieutenants were killed in the shootout. Akaev was killed and two other militants captured, Newsru.com reported on January 17.
Dagestani FSB chief Nikolai Gryaznov claimed the militants killed and captured in Makhachkala and Kaspiisk “were preparing a large-scale terrorist act like the one in Beslan” and that the security forces had carried out “tens” of raids and searches that prevented terrorist attacks from being carried out, Interfax reported on January 15. Gryaznov also said that Magomedzagir Akaev was wearing a poyas shakhida – an explosive belt worn by suicide bombers – at the time of his death. Izvestia on January 18 quoted an unnamed spokesman for the regional operations headquarters of the Russian military operation in the North Caucasus as saying that the militants eliminated in Makhachkala and Kaspiisk had intended to seize a children’s residential home on January 15 and a school on January 17. The newspaper quoted the spokesman as saying that “incontrovertible evidence” of the planned attacks was found at the scene of the Makhachkala shoot-out, including videotapes of Shamil Basaev, “surrounded by Arab terrorist mercenaries,” calling for terrorists acts across Russia.
Some observers, however, were skeptical that a “second Beslan” was averted in Dagestan. “The heads of the operation [in Dagestan] claim that the terrorists whom they destroyed planned to take hostages as in Beslan,” Kommersant wrote. “It is obvious that such explanations are nothing more than an attempt to justify the clumsy actions of the siloviki.”
Aleksandr Golts wrote in an item published on January 17 by Ej.ru, the website of Yezhenedlnyi zhurnal, that the gunmen in Makhachkala and Kaspiisk were probably not eliminated as the result of a thought-out, well-executed special operation. “The militants were most likely stumbled upon during a passport check at private houses – the same thing happened that same day in Kaspiisk,” Golts wrote. “The fact that the militants took up defenses in an ordinary house gave every chance for [their] capture – after all, how much ammunition and weaponry can an escaping person be carrying? Sooner or later, the ammunition would have run out. It was necessary only to put a tight ring around the house. But the Dagestani police and FSB, it seems, don’t know how to do that. Those in charge of the operation feared that the bandits would use the dark to escape, as has already happened more than once (and it cannot be ruled out that it also happened this time). So they called in a tank.”