The massive October 13 rebel attack on the city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, diverted attention from the equally tense situation in the eastern part of the North Caucasus, specifically the republics adjacent to Chechnya: Dagestan and Ingushetia. Nevertheless, the endless battle between the local militants and security officials in these violent regions continues.
Earlier this autumn, Russian security officials had been worried that the insurgents would carry out their long-promised major offensive in Dagestan. Law-enforcement agencies stepped up search operations in the republic, believing that a large-scale rebel attack was imminent. On October 10, just three days before the attack on Nalchik, a group of gunmen ambushed a police motorcade in the Dagestani mountain region of Untsukul. The ambush led the military to believe that the militants had gathered in the district to prepare for a large-scale attack. Russian troops were sent to comb the area, and an official told Interfax that it was possible that the air force would be used in the search operation (Interfax, October 10).
In recent weeks law-enforcement agencies have conducted several successful operations against the insurgency in Dagestan. On October 7, FSB (Federals Security Service) agents and police special-task units surrounded two militants in the town of Kaspiisk. Both rebels were killed during the assault, and one turned out to be the commander of the local insurgents (Interfax, October 7). On October 9, four militants were surrounded in a private house in the outskirts of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. The militants were shot dead after a fierce battle that lasted several hours. One week earlier, on October 2, policemen had killed Shamil Taimaskhanov, the leader of the rebel group that operates in the town of Khasavyurt, and his assistant. Police blocked the car with Taimaskhanov inside and showered the vehicle with bullets during the assault. Finally, security officials killed Murad Lazkhiyalov, who coordinated the activities of rebel groups in major cities of Dagestan (Khasavyurt, Makhachkala, and Buinaksk). Law-enforcement personnel surrounded Lazkhiyalov and two subordinates, Gadzhimagomed Ismailov and Makhach Rasulov, who were holed up in a five-story apartment building in the center of Makhachkala. Grenade launchers and flame-throwers completely destroyed the apartment where the rebels were hiding (Interfax, October 25).
These successful operations enabled Dagestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs to declare that a turning point had been reached in the fight against the local insurgency. “Successful operations by the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Dagestan in different districts and cities of the republic demonstrate the increasing activity of joint efforts of the state organs and of law-enforcement agencies. The terrorists are losing support of the population, there are more and more examples when even their close relatives refuse to help them” (RIA-Dagestan, October 10). Following Lazkhiyalov’s death, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, minister of the internal affairs of Dagestan, said, “Starting this year, 37 bandits were killed. Another 20 active rebels are still on the run, and they will face the same end” (regnum, October 25).
However, it seems that the rebels are not going to give up and are keen to continue their struggle. They have now initiated a large-scale media offensive against the Dagestani authorities. Almost every day rebel websites publish articles, appeals, and statements from Sharia Jamaat, the Dagestani rebel group, where they criticize the republican authorities for corruption and lambaste the “hypocrisy” of local Islamic leaders. They also appeal to the historical memory of the Dagestanis and remind them of their fight against the Russian empire in the 19th century. On November 11, Kavkazcenter.com published an “Address to the Muslims of Dagestan” written by Gazi Mukhamed who was the religious and political leader of the region from 1826 to 1832. In his appeal the Imam reminds how important it is that all Muslims should follow the Sharia law.
While the rebels in Dagestan take their struggle to the Internet, the insurgents in Ingushetia launched a new offensive against security officials. On October 19, a large group of gunmen attacked and burned the homes of local policemen in the village of Yandiri and in the town of Karabulak (Ingushetiya.ru, October 19). This attack culminated a wave of rebel operations against security officials in Ingushetia. There were more than 20 ambushes and bombings in the republic between August 15 and October 20, resulting in the deaths of six policemen, FSB officers, and the soldiers; another 11 were wounded (Kavkazky Uzel, October 10).
The rebels have become even more active in the region this November. Two FSB officers were killed in the village of Ekazhevo on November 3, one day before a policeman was killed in the same area. On November 8, the gunmen threw a hand grenade and shot at the house of a former FSB officer in the village of Nesterovskaya, and the home of another police officer was attacked in the town of Nazran on November 9 (Ingushetiya.ru).
The situations in Ingushetia and Dagestan are becoming increasingly intertwined. A crackdown in one republic may trigger a rebel attack in a neighboring region, making the situation even more complicated for federal and local law-enforcement to contain.