Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 200

The trial of the men accused of blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in the fall of 1999 resumed this week in Stavropol after a two-week break. The five defendants–Muratbi Bairamukov, Aslan and Murat Bastanovy, Muratbi Tuganbaev and Taikan Frantsuzov, all of whom are inhabitants of Karachaevo-Cherkessia–are accused of involvement in a criminal group that prepared and transported explosives disguised as bags of sugar to the sites of the terrorist acts. They are also alleged to have received special instruction at terrorist training camps run by the Chechen rebel field commander Khattab. Yesterday four of the accused–Aslan and Murat Bastanovy, Muratbi Tuganbaev and Taikan Frantsuzov–were allowed to speak for a last time, and each denied all of the accusations. Bairamukov is expected to make his final statement today, after which the judges hearing the case will adjourn to deliberate and reach a verdict. Earlier this week, the prosecutor in the case argued that the defendants should be sentenced to fourteen to twenty years in a strict regime prison (Russian agencies, October 30).

While Russian media have routinely stated that the defendants are accused of involvement in the blowing up of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999, which killed nearly 300 people, the Monitor’s correspondent, who was recently in Stavropol Krai to cover the trial, discovered that the case against them is flimsy or even nonexistent. In an interview with the Monitor’s correspondent, Kazbek Borlakov, a lawyer for one of the accused, expressed deep perplexity at the Russian media’s desire to connect the defendants to the 1999 explosions which, he said, they had no involvement in. “My colleagues and I have repeatedly issued statements and given interviews about this, yet for the general public they were and remain guilty of the explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk,” Borlakov said. In addition, Borlakov claims that the prosecutor has no serious proof of the five defendants’ involvement in “illegal armed formations,” much less in preparing the terrorist bombings in Moscow.

Even more eye-opening were the comments of Vadim Romanov, head of the Stavropol Krai prosecutor’s department, who reluctantly admitted to the Monitor’s correspondent that his office had in fact not charged the five defendants with involvement in Moscow and Volgodonsk explosions. Romanov said that the Russian media’s assumption was a case of simple misunderstanding. He did not make it clear, however, exactly what the defendants were accused of. It should be noted that the trial of the five Karachaevo-Cherkessia residents is taking place behind closed doors at a strict-regime prison in Stavropol Krai. The press has not been allowed to attend the court proceedings, ostensibly for security reasons.