Chechen resistance attacks Kabardino-Balkaria

Presumed Chechen resistance fighters carried out a series of attacks in Nalchik, capital of the Russian Federation’s Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, on the morning of Oct. 13. Facilities targeted included the local headquarters of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the city’s airport. A statement posted on the website identified the attackers as fighters from the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the [Mujahedeen of the] Caucasus Front. Russian troops reportedly killed at least 50 of the estimated 150 fighters who participated in the attacks by around midday; local officials said at least 12 civilians were killed in the fighting and some 64 injured. (RFE/RL Newsline, Oct 13)

Russian authorities say the situation is now under control in Nalchik, but Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said two groups, comprising a total of eight militants, are continuing to resist security forces. (RFE/RL, Oct. 14)

The assault on Nalchik is the first major resistance operation outside Chechnya since Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, successor to slain Chechen president and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, subdivided the so-called Western Front in May to create seven sectors, including one for Kabardino-Balkaria, and named commanders to head those sectors. While Maskhadov had issued strict orders to his men to confine their operations to Chechen territory, Sadullaev has broken with such constraints, arguing that the Russian policy of “genocide” against the Chechen people justifies extending military operations across the North Caucasus.

The fighting in Nalchik is the fourth, and clearly the most serious, such incident in the city within the last 12 months. In the previous three cases, Russian officials identified the militants responsible as members of an armed djamaat, or militant Islamic group. In December 2004, armed militants attacked the Nalchik headquarters of the Federal Anti-narcotics Service, killing four men. The Yarmuk djamaat, which is said to have links with radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, subsequently claimed responsibility for that raid; most of Yarmuk’s members were reportedly surrounded and killed in a shootout with police in late January, while police killed several members of a second djamaat in a similar shootout in late April. Since then, police have conducted a major “anti-terrorism” operation in which they claim to have arrested several dozen suspected militants.

There are believed to be at least 20 djamaats in Kabardino-Balkaria, some of which espouse violence, while others seek to subvert the system peacefully from within by creating what one Russian analyst described as “a separate social space where Russian social and legal norms no longer obtain.” It is not clear whether the militants who attacked Nalchik today were all Chechens, or if they included Kabardians and Balkars as well. Under Valerii Kokov, who stepped down last month last month after 15 years as president due to his failing health, Kabardino-Balkaria became a byword for official corruption, economic stagnation, unemployment and intolerance of even the slightest manifestations of Islamic religious devotion.

The attackers’ tactics—luring police into an ambush and simultaneously attacking the local headquarters of the Interior Ministry and the FSB, among other targets—are reminiscent of the raids on Nazran and other towns in Ingushetia in June 2004, organized by Basaev; the attackers reportedly included both Chechens and young Ingush alienated by corruption, plummeting living conditions, mass unemployment, and arbitrary police reprisals.

Russian deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov recently warned of a “bush-fire” of violence that threatens to engulf the entire North Caucasus. (RFE/RL commentary, Oct. 13)

See our last post on the Caucasus crisis.