Authorities are investigating whether the December 14 attack on a regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) in Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was the work of a Jamaat, or underground Islamic paramilitary group. They are also trying to determine whether any former or current FSKN staff helped the attackers.
Raiders attacked the FSKN headquarters in Nalchik on December 14 at around 5 am local time, killing four employees, looting its armory, and setting the building on fire. Later that day, Deputy Prosecutor General for the Southern Federal District Nikolai Shepel told journalists that 182 pistols of various kinds and 79 assault and sniper’s rifles had been stolen but refused to answer a question about the number of attackers. However, the YUFO.ru website, citing law-enforcement sources, reported on December 16 that investigators believed the attack was carried out by “a well-organized and armed group” consisting of 9-10 people, and that the weapons were likely driven off in a GAZel minibus. According to other reports, the attackers also carted off a large amount of ammunition. Security officials fear the seized weapons and ammo will be used in future terrorist attacks, the way weapons seized by militants in the June attacks on law-enforcement offices in Ingushetia were reportedly used in the September attack on the school in Beslan, North Ossetia (Kommersant, December 16).
YUFO.ru also reported that investigators suspect that former or current FSKN employees were involved in the attack. “The basis for this is the fact that the night guard did not manage to resist the attack,” the website wrote. “Investigators believe that the attackers acted with dead certainty [and] were well-familiarized with the building; there were no signs of forced entry on the doors.”
Investigators initially believed the motive for the attack was either revenge by a drug baron or a raid to seize weapons. Moskovsky komsomolets on December 16 quoted Zamir Misrokhov, Kabardino-Balkaria’s assistant prosecutor, as saying that the main theory was an “attack by a criminal gang” aiming to seize weapons.
As for the attackers’ identity, in a message posted on December 14 on the Chechen separatist Kavkazcenter website, a group identifying itself as the Jamaat “Yarmuk” claimed its “mujahideen” had carried out the attack. As a result of this “special action,” the message stated, “three drugs dealers and their driver were murdered” and “a good number” of armaments taken “as trophies.” Yarmuk alleged that the Interior Ministry’s branch in Kabardino-Balkaria controls drug trafficking in the republic while the republican branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) protects the “channels” through which the “poison” is supplied. “According to Sharia law, contraband and the distribution of narcotics are punished by the death penalty,” the Yarmuk message stated (Kakvkazcenter.com, December 14).
Kavkazcenter reported on December 16 that it had received another statement from Yarmuk claiming that, during its raid on the FSKN headquarters, it had received “valuable documents” containing “secret-service information, addresses, and secret address of informant-drug addicts.” “The command of the Islamic Fighting Jamaat ‘Yarmuk’ plans in the near future to carry out a serious check of the documents in question in order to determine the involvement of those agents in crimes against Muslims,” the statement read (Kavkazcenter.com, December 16).
The Yarmuk Jamaat made its existence known in a message posted by Kavkazcenter last August declaring that it had units throughout Kabardino-Balkaria that were starting to carry out “assigned combat missions in accordance with the requirements of Jihad.” It accused the republic’s authorities and “their Kremlin masters” of kidnapping and torturing local Muslims, closing down mosques, banning the spread of Islam, “corrupt policies that undressed our daughters and our sisters and brought them to lechery and permissiveness,” and “provoking interethnic strife in Kabardino-Balkaria by their criminal and unjust rule” (Kavkazcenter.com, August 24).
Last May, the head of the anti-terrorism department of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry told journalists that Yarmuk consisted of around 20 residents of the republic who had passed through guerrilla training camps in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, some of whom had also received training inside Chechnya. The group is headed by Muslim Ataev, a 30-year-old inhabitant of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Elbrus district (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Kavkaz.memo.ru, December 16). According to Beslan Mukozhev, head of the anti-religious extremism department of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Interior Ministry, the total number of radical Muslims in the republic fluctuates between 500 and 2,000 (Kavkaz.memo.ru, December 15).
Some Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria have complained that the local authorities have responded to the rise of radical Islam in the republic by increasingly repressive measures, including police raids on mosques during traditional Friday prayers and even a decree permitting Muslims to go to mosques only on Friday and limiting prayers to 40 minutes (see EDM, July 30).
On the other hand, Ingushetiya.ru on December 16 posted a statement signed by “the Muslims of Kabardino” and addressed to the Yarmuk Jamaat condemning the December 14 attack on the FSKN offices in Nalchik. “We want to declare that you, ‘Yarmuk,’ have nothing at all to do with Islam and the republic’s Muslims,” it read. “You act according to your personal motives and do not consider the opinions of the Islamic population. Thus your words are not valid among Muslims. For us, you are simply bandits. Last night, four brave Muslims who were fighting against the spread of narcotics were murdered. With that you committed a grave sin — the killing of a Muslim for the sake of personal gain.” The authors concluded their open letter: “We know who you are and will look for you until the end of your days.”
Meanwhile, Sergei Ushakov, head of the FSB directorate for Kabardino-Balkaria, charged that the special services and other organizations of the United States, Turkey, and “Middle Eastern countries” were increasing intelligence and “sabotage activities” in the republic (Itar-Tass, December 16). He also alleged that Western media had published “biased items” on Kabardino-Balkaria after having “direct contacts with leaders of extremist religious structures in the republic.”