Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 14

Seven Interior Ministry soldiers died on Friday (January 18) when a bomb exploded in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital. The incident took place around 8 PM, Moscow time, when a remote control bomb filled with nails and screws was detonated as a military truck carrying some thirty servicemen with the 102d Brigade of Internal Troops was driving by, on its way from a banya (public bath house) back to the federal base. According to police reports, six soldiers died on the spot and one died later in hospital. Some ten were wounded. The Federal Security Service (FSB) department in Dagestan launched a criminal investigation into the bombing and all law enforcement agencies in Makhachkala were put on heightened alert (Itar-Tass, January 18).

The day after the attack,, the website connected to the radical wing of the Chechen rebel movement, cited the rebels’ Radio Kavkaz as quoting the “Unified Command of Mujahideen of Dagestan,” which said the “fighters of the Djaamat”–Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas–had carried out the Makhachkala bombing and claimed thirteen Russian soldiers were killed in the attack (, January 19). Several top Dagestani officials initially gave this claim of responsibility some credibility. Imam Yaralyev, Dagestan’s state prosecutor, said that he believed that the attack was carried out by Chechen proponents of “Wahhabism”–the name for the version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia that is used in the North Caucasus as a catch-all phrase for Islamic fundamentalism. Magomedali Magomedov, head of Dagestan’s security cabinet, said that the perpetrators of the bombing might have links with Dagestani Islamic militants who had refused to accept the defeat of the Wahhabis in Dagestan in 1999 (AFP, January 19). Magomedov was apparently referring to the August 1999 invasion of Dagestan from Chechnya by fundamentalist fighters led by the Chechen rebel field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab.

The waters became muddier yesterday (January 20), when Dagestani authorities announced that they had detained Nadirshakh Khachilaev, the leader of Dagestan’s Laks minority groups and a former State Duma deputy, on suspicion of having organized the bombing of the Interior Ministry troop truck in Makhachkala. Khachilaev, who once headed the Union of Muslims of Russia and has also been described as one of Dagestan’s most powerful mafia bosses, was detained along with another eight or so suspects over the weekend. Police sources claimed that he was found in possession of weapons and electronic equipment, including batteries and wires that could have been used to make electronic detonators, along with “extremist” literature and two videocassettes with recordings of rebels torturing Russian servicemen. Khachilaev, for his part, denied any guilt and dismissed his arrest as a provocation (Kommersant, January 21). quoted the “Unified Command of Mujahideen of Dagestan” as saying that Khachilaev’s arrest was aimed at discrediting him in the run-up to republican elections (, January 21).

Whoever was responsible–and the Islamic radicals’ claim of responsibility seems credible–the bombing in Makhachkala was hardly a surprise. In fact, one can predict that there will be more such terrorist acts in Dagestan as long as the war in neighboring Chechnya continues. A number of factors increase the likelihood that the war in Chechnya will spill over into Dagestan. One is the more than 50,000 Chechens who live in Dagestan’s Khasav-Yurt district, along the republic’s border with Chechnya. The Monitor’s correspondent, who reported from the Khasav-Yurt district on a number of occasions, came away convinced that the overwhelming majority of Chechens living there sympathize with Chechnya’s separatist movement. Indeed, many Dagestani Chechens are currently fighting with the rebels against the Russian forces in Chechnya. In addition, experts say that, among Dagestan’s practicing Muslims, some 6-7 percent hold radical fundamentalist views (Mikhail Roshchin, Religious war in Dagestan, Keston News Service, September 15, 1999).

In 1998, the Monitor’s correspondent saw a leaflet distributed by Dagestani fundamentalists, which read: “We want to liberate Dagestan from the Russian infidels, so that they will not give us orders, so that they will not teach us how to live and how to die, so that they will not take our children into their army…. Arm and teach yourselves, in order to drive the Russian infidels from our land. Those who want to rise up against the Russian infidels, come to us and learn. We will come together as a united force. While we are together the entire world will be at our feet … Allahu Akbar!”

Today a majority of Dagestani fundamentalists support the Chechen resistance movement as a jihad against unbelievers. It is noteworthy that in 1998 the most influential leader of Dagestan’s Islamic fundamentalists, Mullah Bagauddin, left for Chechnya, where he formed units for “the liberation of Dagestan” that were made up of Dagestanis. This explains why a large number of the guerrillas who invaded Dagestan in August 1999 under the command of Basaev and Khattab were in fact Dagestani.

The “Unified Command of the Mujahideen of Dagestan” was quoted today as saying that Dagestani fighters would step up their “military activities against the occupation group” (, January 21).