No one could have predicted a scandal would erupt when, on April 3, the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) reported that security forces had killed five rebels in Ingushetia’s main city, Nazran. The authorities acknowledged there was a woman among the slain rebels. According to government sources, security forces tried to stop the rebels’ car, but the militants opened fire on them and were killed by return fire. One of the men and the woman in the car were wearing “suicide belts” that together contained the equivalent of five kilograms of TNT in explosive force, which could not be safely discharged, the NAK asserted. It claimed that the security services actions had prevented a double suicide attack (http://ria.ru/defense_safety/20120403/617131007.html, April 3).
On April 5, the son of the woman killed in the incident published an open letter to the prosecutor general of Ingushetia and human rights organizations. It stated that the night she was killed, 57-year-old Zina Velkhieva was returning home from the brick making factory where she had worked for the previous eight years. That night, the factory’s bus did not pick the workers up and a friend, Salman Gardanov, took Velkhieva home along with several of her neighbors from the town of Plievo. When their car was in the central part of Nazran, two cars without license plates blocked it and opened fire on its passengers, according to witnesses. After approximately an hour the car exploded and the following day, April 4, Velkhieva’s remains were handed over to her relatives. On April 5, the head of the municipal district of Plievo, Magomed Sultygov, visited the Velkhiev family and told them that Zina Velkhieva was innocent and that Ingushetia’s leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, “was taking the investigation under his personal control” (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/blogs/342/posts/11160, April 5).
At an April 9 meeting with the relatives of the five people killed in the April 3 incident, Yevkurov further admitted that three out of the five were innocent victims. Apart from Velkhieva, 24-year-old Salaudin Muruzhev and 30-year-old Shamsudin Gardanov were officially acquitted postmortem. The Federal Security Service (FSB) insists that the other two people killed in the incident, the brothers Salman and Juneid Gardanov, were rebels. Their brother – “an active member of the bandit underground, Magomed Gardanov” – was killed in a special operation in 2010, according to the security services. Yevkurov suggested that the two rebels may have used the other three passengers as “human shields” (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22856.html, April 9). However, the Gardanov brothers’ father, Akhmed Gardanov, said in an open letter that the same Ingush official who confirmed Velkhieva’s innocence, Magomed Sultygov, had said that his sons were also victims of a security services’ error (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/blogs/342/posts/11191, April 9).
It is unclear whether the security services held something against Salman and Juneid Gardanov apart from their connection to their brother who was killed as a suspected rebel in 2010. It seems clear that the two Gardanov brothers were not on the wanted list and were not hiding prior to their death.
The well-known Ingush civil organization Mehk-Khel (aka Alternative Parliament) called the incident a “brutal and cynical crime by the law enforcement agencies.” Ingushetia’s civil activists announced plans for mass protests against the lawlessness in the republic (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22844.html, April 6). The popular opposition website Ingushetiyaru.org announced that since Yevkurov had continually failed to provide safety and law enforcement, the website would dub him the “Main Terrorist of the Republic of Ingushetia” (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22855.html, April 9).
“The truce is coming to an end,” is how Magomed Toriev, an Ingush analyst who works for Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe in Prague, described the recent developments in Ingushetia (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24541379.html, April 8). As the civil war in the republic appears to be reigniting, Yevkurov’s claim to have pacified Ingushetia is increasingly hard to believe. On April 5, a roadside bomb exploded in the city of Malgobek, injuring four police officers, two of whom remained in critical condition as of April 9. An estimated 20 kilograms of TNT were used to make the IED that detonated as the armored police vehicle was passing by (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204332/, April 5). One Chechen police officer died and another was injured in an armed clash with rebels in the border area between Chechnya and Ingushetia (http://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204512/, April 9). On April 10, the head of the council of Ingush clans, Magomed Gadaborshev, was killed in Ingushetia’s Sunzhensky district (http://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204590/, April 10).
Meanwhile, the government appears to be clumsily looking for ways to justify its errors. On April 4, at a government meeting in Magas, Ingushetia’s prosecutor general, Pavel Belyakov, said that the situation in the republic had deteriorated significantly in the preceding several months, with attempts on the lives of law enforcement officers doubling. However, Belyakov called the government response to this trend “adequate” (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24541419.html, April 8).
Yevkurov’s personal feelings are probably reflected by the fact that as of April 10 he had not expressed his condolences to the families of the civilians killed in the April 3 incident on his weblog, while he expressed condolences for a head of a government musical ensemble who died of natural causes. At the same time, during a government meeting on April 4, Yevkurov reprimanded the security services for excessive use of heavy weaponry and breaches of legal procedures during arrests, while requesting the replacement of the head of the Russian police unit that is stationed in Ingushetia. Yevkurov mentioned that he had issued similar warnings previously, apparently to no avail (http://evkurov.livejournal.com/, April 4).
Yevkurov now faces the challenging task of appeasing Ingushetia’s public while at the same time not offending law enforcement staff. This is becoming increasingly hard, as both Ingushetia’s public and Moscow have grown increasingly wary of Yevkurov’s performance. Since the law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus have carte blanche from Moscow, local leaders do virtually nothing about the security services’ actions. Thus, it is highly unlikely there will be any repercussions for the state agencies in this case, even though officials have openly admitted that three innocent civilians were killed.