A top Dagestani official who is serving as a witness in the trial of Chechen rebel warlord Salman Raduev testified yesterday that Raduev personally led the January 1996 armed raid on a hospital in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar and the village of Pervomaisk. The trial of Raduev is taking place in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital. The witness, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, who is Dagestan’s minister for national policy, information and external relations, was something of a hero during the January 1996 incident, when he offered himself up as a hostage in exchange for some of the 100 or so hospital patients who had been seized by the raiders. Raduev’s gunmen took Gusaev hostage but refused to release any of the patients. Gusaev’s testimony bolsters the Russian government’s contention, made personally by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov at the start of the trial, that Raduev personally led the Chechen fighters who carried out the terrorist raid and thus bears personal responsibility for the seventy-eight civilians, policeman and soldiers who were killed during the incident. Raduev has claimed that the raid was ordered by then Chechen leader Djohar Dudaev and led by another field commander, Khunkar Israpilov. Neither man is still alive. Raduev insists that he was only in charge of the “political” aspect of the raid, such as giving press interviews by mobile phone, while other fighters seized the hostages and mined the Kizlyar hospital.
Another witness for the prosecution, Krasnodar police chief Nikolai Goncharov, testified yesterday that Raduev and another defendant, former Chechen vice premier Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, threatened to shoot hostages–an accusation both men have denied. A third witness, Aleksandr Merkulov, a journalist, testified yesterday that during interviews he made with Raduev in 1997 and 1998, Raduev had threatened to carry out terrorist attacks in Russia if Russian troops were not withdrawn from Chechnya. According to Merkulov, Raduev threatened to carry out attacks in the North Caucasus and in Russian cities, and mentioned the nuclear power plant in the city of Voronezh as a possible target.
Raduev, who was captured by Russian forces in March 2000, has been charged with terrorism, murder with particular cruelty, organizing illegal armed formations, kidnapping and hostage taking, and banditry. In addition to the January 1996 attack on Kizlyar, he is also accused of kidnapping officers belonging to a special OMON police unit in December 1996 and organizing the bombing of the railway station in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk in 1997. The latter terrorist act was carried out by two Chechen women, Aset Dadsheva and Fatima Taimaskhanov, who have already been tried and imprisoned. If found guilty, Raduev could face life imprisonment. Along with Raduev and Atgeriev, two other rebel field commanders, Aslanbek Alkhazurov and Hussein Gaisumov, are among the accused. Gusaev, the Dagestani minister and witness, said in court yesterday: “None of those sitting in the dock have any conscience, because if they had any, they wouldn’t be able to raise their heads in this room” (RIA Novosti, Gazeta.ru, November 29; NTV.ru, November 28).
Interestingly, two key players on the Russian side during the Chechen terrorist raid on Kizlyar and Pervomaisk, former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and former Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov, have reportedly refused to testify at the trial of Raduev and his former associates. Back in January 1996, the two men were in charge of the counterterrorist operation launched by the Russian government in response to the Kizlyar raid. The Interfax news agency, citing informed sources in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala, reported that Kulikov, who is now a State Duma deputy, said he was too busy with Duma work to testify. It was not clear why Barsukov was unable to attend. In any case, Kulikov’s excuse lacks credibility given that Russian parliamentarians are often absent from the Duma for much less important reasons. In addition, the Monitor’s correspondent, while on assignment in Stavropol in early November, witnessed Kulikov meeting his constituents over the course of an entire week–a week in which the Duma was regularly in session in Moscow.
There are three possible reasons why Kulikov and Barsukov may not want to testify. The first is that they do not want to hear former hostages criticize them for failing to protect Russian citizens from terrorists. The second is that Kulikov and Barsukov, who in January 1996 told the entire country that Raduev’s terrorists were surrounded by three rings of troops in the village of Pervomaisk and would not escape, do not want to be asked how the terrorists nonetheless managed to break out of the encirclement. The third is that the former Interior Minister and FSB chief may not want to have to answer for why they subsequently gave the order to shell Pervomaisk after insisting that Raduev’s band had killed all the hostages they were holding. In fact, 150 hostages were still alive and appealing desperately to the Russian security forces to cease firing on the village. Thirteen hostages reportedly died as a result of the Russian shelling (see the Monitor, November 16).
KREMLIN SAYS BOMBING OF GEORGIA JUSTIFIED BUT PREMATURE.