Was Top Ingush Official Targeted by New Insurgent Leader?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 14 Issue: 16

On the morning of August 27, the secretary of Ingushetia’s Security Council, Akhmed Kotiev, was killed when unidentified attackers fired shots at his car in the vicinity of the town Nizhnie Achaluki as he was on his way to his office (http://www.infox.ru/accident/crime/2013/08/27/Ubit_syekryetar_Sovb.phtml). His driver was also killed in the incident. The assailants managed to escape. Investigators found 111 shell casings at the scene of the attack (http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/25088183.html). The investigators believe the cartridges were identical to those used in other attacks on law enforcement personnel in Ingushetia.

This was not the first attempt on Kotiev’s life. He survived such an incident in June 2012, when unknown attackers fired grenades into his house (http://www.newsru.com/russia/27aug2013/kotiev.html).

The head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, quickly announced that Kotiev had been killed in connection with his professional activities. However, there may be some questions about this assertion. Prior to his appointment as secretary of Ingushetia’s Security Council in 2011, Kotiev was fired from Ingushetia’s police force for negligence that led to a rebel attack on the district police station in Nazran (http://crimerussia.ru/component/content/article/38-organizovannaja-prestupnost/13311-13311.html). Kotiev once served as head of the Nazran city police department (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/08/27_a_5608309.shtml). The authorities, however, have emphasized the slain official’s activities in trying to convince rebels to lay down their arms and return to civilian life. According to Yevkurov, the Security Council security was not afraid to tell the truth both to the relatives of militants and former rebels themselves (http://fedpress.ru/news/society/news_event/1377583028-evkurov-kotieva-mogli-ubit-iz-za-ego-raboty-po-adaptatsii-byvshikh-chlenov-nvf). According to the authorities, Kotiev managed to win over more than 60 people who were on the wanted list for various crimes, about 50 of whom reportedly were former militants (http://www.rg.ru/2013/08/27/reg-skfo/pochoronen-anons.html). One of the leaders of the human rights group Memorial, Alexander Cherkasov, shares Yevkurov’s view about why Kotiev was killed (http://echo.msk.ru/blog/shalommani/1145148-echo/). However, 60 people is quite a large figure for such a small republic in the North Caucasus, which raises doubts about whether those who surrendered to the authorities had any relation to the insurgency at all.

According to other reports, Kotiev had previously held talks concerning the possible surrender of a group of rebels consisting of 18 members. Some of them agreed to give up under Kotiev’s personal guarantees. Yevkurov confirmed that such talks indeed had been held, but according to the head of Ingushetia, the group was made up of six persons (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/08/27_a_5608309.shtml). The figure of 18 rebels wanting to surrender is, to put it mildly, improbably high for Ingushetia. In all likelihood these talks were attributed to Kotiev, in order to increase his stature as a person who can hold talks with the rebels. However, the rebels, for their part, described Kotiev after he was killed as a person who had the blood of hundreds of people on his hands (http://hunafa.com/?p=15629).

Some journalists have suggested Kotiev’s murder might be linked to the death of the opposition figure and journalist Magomed Yevloev on August 31, 2008 (http://www.u-f.ru/News/u3/2013/08/28/660403). Back then, Kotiev was among those who Yevloev’s relatives accused of being involved in his murder. Kotiev at the time was serving on Ingushetia’s police force (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/08/27_a_5608309.shtml). However, according to the tradition of the blood feud, as long as the perpetrators of the murder are alive, no one else can be killed in revenge, and such a high profile figure as Kotiev evidently did not carry out Yevloev’s murder himself. Journalists tend to apply the rules of blood feud liberally without proper knowledge of how it is used in the mountaineers’ society in the North Caucasus.

It is more likely that Kotiev’s murder was planned and implemented by a new leader in the armed underground of Ingushetia. The authorities are pointing the finger at Artur Gatagazhev (http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/25088183.html). He is the leader of the Malgobek group of militants, which has about 15 members. Gatagazhev, who was put on the federal wanted list in 2009 for being an active participant of the armed resistance, is suspected of attempting to kill a law enforcement agent and illegally acquiring arms. The 38-year-old militant is also suspected of organizing a 2012 suicide bomb attack targeting the funeral of a Malgobek police officer, in which seven police officers died and 15 others were injured (http://www.km.ru/v-rossii/2013/08/27/mvd-rossii/719325-smi-uznali-imya-predpolagaemogo-organizatora-ubiistva-glavy-so). The theory that Gatagazhev was behind Kotiev’s murder is plausible given that it was carried out in the area where the Malgobek jamaat operates. Moreover, after the leader of Ingushetia’s jamaat, Jamaleil Mutaliev (a.k.a. Emir Adam), was killed in May 2013 (http://lifenews.ru/#!news/114104), Gatagazhev probably succeeded him as the Ingush jamaat’s leader.

In any case, the latest terrorist attack is also notable because Emir Adam, when he led the Ingush jamaat, did not attack law enforcement personnel. In contrast to the previous leader, Gatagazhev is known for targeting the law enforcement agencies. For example, in October 2012, he shot at a Federal Security Services (FSB) officer in Malgobek. In June 2012, he killed the chief of the detention center in Malgobek and his son. He has carried out multiple other attacks on the police in Ingushetia’s Malgobek district (http://www.yuga.ru/news/305214/). If Gatagazhev succeeded Emir Adam as leader of the entire Ingushetian jamaat, then the outlook for the republican government will become increasingly bleak. In the past, the authorities even used Gatagazhev’s mother to try to convince him to surrender without success. His mother spoke on Ingush TV, asking him to return home and surrender under government guarantees, and videos of her appeal were also disseminated via the Internet (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/196096/). Given his background, Getagazhev has zero chance of avoiding a life sentence if he is taken into custody. In all likelihood he is unlikely to surrender, preferring freedom in Ingushetia’s forests to a life behind bars.