Will Captured Ingush Rebel Leader Die in Prison to Ensure his Silence?

Russian counter-insurgency efforts in the North Caucasus scored some major successes this week, with the capture of the top Ingush rebel leader and the reported killing of a group of rebels in Chechnya. But, according to a leading Moscow newspaper, the capture of Ali Taziev, aka Magas, could pose a threat to top officials in the Russian capital given his inside knowledge of the circumstances surrounding terrorist acts like the September 2004 Beslan school seizure, and may mean Magas will not survive long in captivity.

Taziev, a former Ingush policeman who switched sides, was reportedly captured in the Ingush city of Malgobek by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on June 9 in an operation designed to capture him alive. FSB Director, Aleksandr Bortnikov, told President, Dmitry Medvedev, that Taziev and the late Chechen rebel warlord, Shamil Basaev, had together organized the deadly raid into Nazran in June 2004, as well as the abduction of relatives of former Ingush President, Murat Zyazikov, and the June 2009 suicide bombing that seriously wounded Ingushetia’s current President, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, as well as the August 2009 suicide bombing of police headquarters in Nazran, which killed at least 25 people, including 15 Russian policemen. Taziev is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo remand prison Interfax quoted a Moscow regional security source as saying he is being held under high security out of fears that his associates could try to free or “eliminate” him (Interfax, June 9).

According to Vremya Novostei, Taziev indeed faces the threat of dying while in custody, but at the hands of his captors, not his associates. The newspaper’s North Caucasus correspondent, Ivan Sukhov, wrote in today’s (June 11) edition that it is widely believed Taziev was among the group of terrorists who seized the school in Beslan in September 2004, a small number of whom allegedly managed to survive the storming of the facility by security forces, during which more than 300 hostages were killed, over half of them children.

“Naturally, Magas may not say anything [while in custody],” Sukhov wrote. “Or maybe he will agree to cooperate [with the authorities], or already agreed to do so long ago. Then one should not expect public revelations. But if investigators manage to verify alternative versions of what happened in Beslan, the trial of Magas will simply be fated to have enormous public repercussions. Beslan remains the largest-scale terrorist act in modern Russian history, and many are dissatisfied with the conclusions of the investigation. There remains a mass of painful questions to which Magas could help find answers –beginning with the true makeup of the participants in the assault [by the terrorists] and ending with the ‘authorship’ of the start of the storming of the school [by the security forces], where more than 1,000 children and teachers were being held hostage. It cannot be ruled out that Magas’ public testimony on Beslan could seriously damage the reputation of certain top officials (both in uniform and not in uniform). Precisely for that reason there are serious grounds to fear that the former policeman will not be a long-term survivor of Russia’s penitentiary system and that he definitely risks not living to see his trial” (www.vremya.ru, June 11).

Ingush President Yevkurov, for his part, said Taziev is already giving evidence, including information about “where he was sheltered and fed” and about “those officials who gave him money.” Yevkurov added that in recent years, most of the rebel forces’ funds have come from “tribute” they extracted from regional officials (www.newsru.com, June 11).

Meanwhile, the headquarters of federal forces in Chechnya reported on June 10 that ten militants were eliminated during a sweep in the republic’s Vedeno district on June 8. The headquarters claimed that a Jordanian-born militant, Yasir Amarat, was among those killed, but Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, said later that Amarat’s body was not found among those of the slain militants (Interfax, June 10).

Despite these apparent successes against Islamist militants in Ingushetia and Chechnya, the security situation in other republic remains problematic.

On the evening of June 10, unidentified attackers shot and killed a policeman, Staff Sergeant Nazim Magomedov, in the village of Boshoi Bredikhin in Dagestan’s Kizlyar district. That same evening, gunmen shot and killed a local resident in the village of Kichi-Gamli in Dagestan’s Sergokalinsky district. The victim was identified as either a forest ranger or a hunter (www.newsru.com, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 11). On June 9, two policemen were slightly injured in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala when an explosive device detonated in front of their car. That same day, someone threw a grenade into the Rubin café in Makhachkala, wounding an OMON police officer who was in the café in plain clothes at the time of the incident. Also on June 9, unidentified attackers shot and killed a police major as he was driving his car in the city of Khasavyurt. That same day, an unidentified gunman shot and killed the owner of a grocery store his store in the city of Khasavyurt (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 9).

In recent weeks, there has been a series of attacks in Dagestan on businesses selling alcohol, as well as their owners or employees, after leaflets were distributed last month stating that the Sharia Jamaat had declared war on sellers of alcohol, narcotics, fortune tellers, and the owners of gaming halls and saunas, along with their “Satanic” businesses (EDM, June 4, 10).

On June 8, the deputy administrator of a madrassa in Dagestan’s Kizlayar district was shot to death near his house. A suspect identified as being “an active supporter of radical Islamism” was detained (Interfax, June 9). That same day, a judge, Abdurakhman Gamzatov, was shot dead in his home in the village of Untsukul in Dagestan’s Untsukul district (Interfax, June 8).

Also on June 8, two unidentified attackers raided a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting hall in the town of Nartakala in Kabardino-Balkaria, beating up two security guards, who were later hospitalized, and setting fires inside the premises using a flammable liquid. The fires were extinguished by the injured security guards themselves (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 8).