Chechen terrorist attack on majority Muslim town highlights Jihad between 'officially approved' and radical Islam
Russian Islamic revolt is spreading
October 14, 2005
MIM: Besides being high time that the Kavkaz terrorist website was shut down, the attacks on the majority Muslim town highlight the battle between 'moderate' and officially sanctioned Islam which functions in the context of Russian law, and that of a totalitarian Taliban like state under shar'ia.
"...Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, linked the incident to the ongoing military and political struggle in Chechnya between pro-Moscow and separatist forces, and to broad tensions between authorities and Islamists in the North Caucasus region.
In recent years, he said, authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria have sought to repress the expression of Islam outside of officially approved channels, and this appears to have produced a backlash.
"Relations between officials and believers deteriorated," Malashenko said..."
6/14/06 update: Not only has the Kavkaz website not been shutdown -the website has been revamped and also provides instructions on how to access it via cell phone. http://www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/
MOSCOW Islamic gunmen staged coordinated attacks on police and government buildings in Russia's northern Caucasus region yesterday in a new wave of violence spilling over from war-torn Chechnya that killed more than 80 people.
Authorities said 12 police, 12 civilians and more than 50 guerrillas died in the day's fighting in Nalchik, capital of the predominantly Muslim republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Seven more guerrillas were reported killed in an outlying district, and 17 were captured.
President Vladimir Putin ordered a total blockade of Nalchik to prevent militants from slipping out. He told security forces to shoot any armed resisters.
The fighting marked the continued spread through the region of the violence that started in the 1990s with a bid for independence by Chechen separatists.
"People have been talking for a long time now about the metastasis of the Chechen conflict throughout the North Caucasus, and this is one of the manifestations," said Nikolai Silayev, a Caucasus analyst at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. "The situation in the North Caucasus is clearly not quieting down."
In September 2004, rebels seized a school in the town of Beslan, about 60 miles southeast of Nalchik; more than 300 hostages, police and rebels died in a firefight and explosions.
Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin estimated the number of rebels involved in yesterday's attacks at 100, but other officials said there could be up to 300 involved. Putin ordered a cordon to be put up around the city of 235,000 to prevent rebels from escaping.
"The president gave an instruction that not one gunman should be allowed to leave the town, and those who are armed and putting up resistance must be wiped out," Chekalin said in televised remarks after meeting Putin.
Mohammed Samukov, an aide to Nalchik's mayor, said fighting in the city began around 9 a.m., with attacks on three police buildings, a state security office, an anti-organized-crime unit and a border-guard detachment. The gunmen also tried to seize the city's airport, but failed, other authorities said.
Early today, security forces reportedly freed an unspecified number of police officers held hostage at a police station and stormed a store in search of other rebel holdouts. The ITAR-Tass news agency said there were three rebels in the store near the regional headquarters of the Federal Security Service and they were holding two hostages.
A doctor at City Hospital No. 2, who was willing to give only her first name, Galina, said that fighting had occurred near the hospital at midday.
"A group of several people was firing at our police, and they were warding off the attackers," she said. "The din was really something. There were explosions, but the hospital wasn't damaged."
Arsen Kanokov, president of Kabardino-Balkaria, said yesterday evening that the situation was under control.
"There is absolutely no panic. The entire state infrastructure is working, and all of the city's exit routes have been sealed off," he said.
Chekalin said security forces were searching for remaining rebels.
Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, linked the incident to the ongoing military and political struggle in Chechnya between pro-Moscow and separatist forces, and to broad tensions between authorities and Islamists in the North Caucasus region.
In recent years, he said, authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria have sought to repress the expression of Islam outside of officially approved channels, and this appears to have produced a backlash.
"Relations between officials and believers deteriorated," Malashenko said.
Yesterday's attacks appeared to be an effort by Islamic rebels "to show everybody, including the Kremlin administration, that they are very strong and can do whatever they like, even in a big city like Nalchik," he said. "This was a kind of demonstration of their capacities. It is at the same time a certain revenge."
The attacks also could be a show of strength linked to a scheduled Nov. 27 parliamentary election in Chechnya.
Authorities blamed the attacks on a group called Yarmuk, which they said was linked to Islamic extremists and Chechen rebels led by Shamil Basayev and Abdul-Khalid Sadulayev.
Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said in Nalchik that some of the captured rebels had begun to talk. He said the attacks were led by Islamic radicals Anzor Astemirov and Iless Gorchkhanov. They previously have been identified as leaders of Yarmuk and are wanted by police for allegedly masterminding an attack on the Nalchik drug-control office in December.
"Unfortunately, the aim of the bandit attack is to destabilize the situation and demonstrate their organizational, resource and other capabilities, and to try to show that the authorities are helpless when it comes to protecting public order and protecting citizens," Kolesnikov said.
A statement posted on the rebel-linked Web site Kavkaz Center also credited Yarmuk with Thursday's attacks.
Mindful of the Beslan attack, for which Basayev claimed responsibility, authorities in Nalchik said they evacuated children from schools. Los Angeles Times reporters Natasha Yefimova and Yakov Ryzhak contributed to this report.
Russian Security Forces Smash Through Wall of Store to Rescue Three Hostages Held by Suspected Militants
By MIKE ECKEL
The Associated Press
NALCHIK, Russia - Russian security forces in an armored personnel carrier smashed through the wall of a store to rescue two hostages held by suspected Islamic militants Friday as authorities tried to clear out the last pockets of rebel resistance after more than a day of fighting that killed at least 108 people.
Chechen rebels claimed involvement in the near-simultaneous attacks on police and security facilities that began Thursday in this southern Russian city of 235,000 people and left corpses lying on the streets.
The fighting in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic near Chechnya raised fears that Islamic militants who have been fighting Russian forces for most of the past decade were opening a new front in the troubled Caucasus region.
President Vladimir Putin praised the response by the security forces but lamented that such attacks can occur, news agencies quoted him as saying.
"It is bad that such bandit raids are still possible here," Putin said, according to the news agency Interfax, in his first public comments on the fighting.
He added, however, "it's good that this time all the law-enforcement agencies worked in coordination, effectively and tough."
Putin has been beleaguered by attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and underscored his failure to bring the turbulent Caucasus under control. On Thursday, he ordered a total blockade of Nalchik to prevent militants from slipping out and ordered security forces to shoot any armed resisters.
Putin indicated the central government will continue taking an uncompromising line in the region.
"Our actions must be adequate for all the threats that bandits make to our country. We will act hard and consistently, as we did in this case."
Militants battling Russian forces in the region near Chechnya have employed terrorist methods including suicide bombings and the seizure of more than 1,000 hostages last year in a school in Beslan, about 60 miles southeast of Nalchik. More than 330 people, mostly children, were killed in that siege.
In freeing the two hostages Friday in the center of Nalchik, soldiers shot grenades through a barred window of a store. Three militants were killed, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.
By midday, the head of the regional government, Gennady Gubin, announced that all rebel resistance had been suppressed and all captives had been freed, the Interfax news agency reported.
Interfax reported later that 12 militants had been killed in the local office of the Russian prison administration, according to deputy administration chief Valery Krayev. Nine hostages were freed from the building earlier Friday, leaving two behind, it said. The two remaining hostages' fate was not known.
It was unclear whether the militants had any specific demands. The rebels' strategy has been to sow instability across the south, capitalizing on the turbulent Caucasus Mountain region's grinding poverty to swell their recruits, buying off corrupt officials to get weapons, and unleashing terrorist bombings and hit-and-run attacks against police.
The president of Kabardino-Balkariya, Arsen Kanokov, told Interfax that nearly 150 militants were involved in the attack and most of them were local residents. He said the main reason for the attack was the republic's difficult economic situation.
"The population's low income and unemployment create the soil for religious extremists and other destructive forces to conduct an ideological war against us," Kanokov was quoted as saying.
At least 108 people, including 72 attackers, had been killed in the fighting, according to a tally by officials, news reports and an Associated Press reporter.
Among them were 24 law enforcement officers and 12 civilians, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the RIA-Novosti news agency.
It was unclear whether any of the 12 rebels reported killed at the prison administration building had been included in the toll.
"All points of rebel resistance have been suppressed and hostages freed. Now the security forces are conducting a sweep of the city to find rebels who are hiding," Interfax quoted Gubin, the prime minister of the Kabardino-Balkariya republic, as saying.
Zaur Makhsiyev, who said his 20-year-old sister, Leyla, had been inside the gift shop, said she was uninjured but suffering the aftereffects of an unspecified gas presumably used to incapacitate the militants. The use of gas could not be independently confirmed.
Kolesnikov also said five police officers had been freed from a precinct station where they had been held by militants, and that eight militants had been killed there.
Nurgaliyev said 31 rebels were detained, RIA-Novosti reported. State-controlled Channel One television showed detained men lined up in the corridor of a police station, holding their hands behind their necks and facing the wall.
Six of the most gravely wounded were being flown to Moscow, 870 miles to the north, for treatment, ITAR-Tass reported.
Outside Nalchik, in the suburb of Khasanya, rebels shelled a police car Friday morning, killing two riot police officers.
Bloodied corpses still lay in the streets on Friday. One was near the entrance to police station No. 2 and the regional anti-terrorist center, where most of the windows had been blown out and even tramway lines outside had been brought down.
Seven more bodies were sprawled across the street, most with horrific head wounds. Heavily armed police poked and kicked at the bodies, presumably those of militants, all clad in tracksuits and running shoes.
Outside the local Federal Security Service building, several heavily armed officers picked gingerly through a black backpack that had apparently belonged to a militant, pulling out a candy bar, a bottle of water and a black T-shirt.
ITAR-Tass said that some rebels tried to escape in a van but crashed into a tree and were surrounded and killed. RIA-Novosti said there had been seven militants and an unknown number of hostages in the vehicle. The hostages were rescued, it said.
Estimates of the number of militants involved ranged from 60 to 300, and Interfax quoted an aide to the president of Kabardino-Balkariya as saying late Thursday that 17 had been detained.
Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said the fighting began after police tried to capture about 10 militants in a Nalchik suburb, and that the attacks were aimed at diverting police. All 10 suspects were killed, he said.
The Kavkaz-Center Web site, seen as a voice for rebels loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, said it had received a message claiming responsibility for the attack on behalf of the Caucasus Front. It said the group is part of the Chechen rebel forces and includes Yarmuk, an alleged militant Islamic group based in Kabardino-Balkariya.
The strategy of launching simultaneous attacks on police facilities was similar to last year's siege in another Caucasus republic, Ingushetia, in which 92 people died and police armories were looted. Basayev claimed responsibility for those attacks and the Beslan raid.
Dagestan, another Caucasus republic, has suffered a sharp rise in violence this year, with bomb attacks and clashes between police and fighters of uncertain affiliation reported almost daily.
Russia's Islamic revolt is spreading Mark Franchetti, Moscow , and Alexei Shvedov, Nalchik
THE diehard gang of Muslim extremists responsible for last week's attack on the southern Russian city of Nalchik consisted mainly of local militants intent on creating a strict Islamic state independent of Moscow, according to security sources in the region.
The disclosure that the gunmen were not sent from the war-torn republic of Chechnya but belonged to a group from Kabardino-Balkaria, the Russian republic of which Nalchik is the capital, will be of great concern to the Kremlin.
It provides alarming evidence that far from dying down as claimed by President Vladimir Putin the bloody Chechen conflict is spreading.
"Most of the militants who were killed and those caught alive are local," said an officer with the Nalchik anti-terrorism police unit. " The ferocity of the attacks has shocked the city."
The onslaught, which turned the town of 280,000 into a war zone, was the most daring raid by pro-Chechen Islamic militants since last year's Beslan school siege in which 330 hostages were killed. It came less than a month before parliamentary elections in Chechnya, hailed by Putin as evidence that the region is becoming stable.
The 24 hours of gun battles in which several police stations and other security forces buildings were attacked left at least 108 dead, including more than 60 militants. Nearly 30 others were detained.
Most of the gunmen were thought to be members of Yarmuk, a homegrown fundamentalist group that the local authorities twice claimed to have destroyed.
Composed mainly of young extremists from the region's two main ethnic groups, the Kabardins and the Balkars, Yarmuk has close ties with Shamil Basayev, Russia's most wanted terrorist, who was behind the Beslan attack and appears to be extending his influence in an attempt to open up a new front in his war with Moscow.
Last week Russian prosecutors blamed Anzor Astemirov, a radical Yarmuk leader with ties to Basayev, for the Nalchik attacks. Local officials claimed they were launched to rescue a group of extremists surrounded by security forces. But the assault on the city appeared too well organised to be spontaneous. Observers believe it was a suicide mission with the aim of killing scores of officers and embarrassing the authorities.
Security forces were caught off guard when about 100 militants armed with AK47s, hand grenades and rocket launchers turned up in the city centre.
In near-simultaneous attacks shortly after 9am on Thursday, the militants targeted three police stations, the headquarters of the local FSB (the former KGB), the interior ministry building, the offices of the city's prison guards, a military unit guarding the airport and a counter-terrorism centre.
"Suddenly a car pulled up outside the FSB building," said Evgenia Sakurova, the director of a hotel opposite.
"Five or six armed men jumped out and ran towards the FSB entrance. They were carrying rucksacks. Quickly they took them off and threw them at the main doors. Explosions followed and all the windows on the ground and first floors were blown out. But the terrorists didn't manage to break into the building and officers started shooting at them from inside."
Two militants were killed in the gun battle. Three others ran for cover into a souvenir shop where they reportedly took three women hostage.
As battles raged across the city centre, 15 militants mounted an assault on a police station near the airport.
Two cars packed with armed men drove up to the building," a witness said. "One group lobbed a hand grenade into the front entrance and stormed inside. The other attacked the side entrance.
"There were a few officers chatting by their parked cars. The militants fired at them from machineguns and killed them."
A firefight ensued as officers on the first and second floors fired back at the militants.
As another group of gunmen was beaten back by soldiers at the airport and Russian reinforcements began to pour into the city, militants raided at least two gun shops.
One police officer and three gunmen were killed at one of them. A wounded masked militant was seen crawling on the ground screaming in pain.
Putin ordered the city to be sealed off and anyone putting up resistance to be shot. However, some militants are thought to have escaped.
At the souvenir shop, it took until the early hours of Friday to end the standoff. "The shop was surrounded," said Alexei Lavrentiev, who watched Russian special forces in gas masks storm the building.
"They fired several rockets from a grenade launcher through the window and fired from machineguns. An armoured personnel carrier smashed through a wall. Two hostages were carried out. They looked more dead than alive."
As he stared at the bodies of two policemen and three insurgents Lavrentiev added: "The militants are all dead now but the city is in a state of shock. The question on everybody's mind is, where and when will these terrorists strike next?"
Abramovich to run region again
Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club, is to serve a second term as governor of the remote far northern Russian region of Chukotka following the announcement yesterday that President Vladimir Putin has backed his candidacy.
Abramovich, whose term runs out in December, had said he did not want to stay on but is now widely expected to serve until 2011. He has invested millions of dollars in the impoverished region. The announcement comes less than three weeks after Abramovich sold his oil company to the Russian state for more than £5 billion.
Terror comes to Nalchik, a quiet little city in the North Caucasus, as Islamic insurgents take their war deeper into Russia
BY PAUL QUINN-JUDGE / NALCHIK
Nothing much usually happens in Nalchik, capital of the obscure Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Mostly, tourists come to ski or climb in mountains that include Europe's highest, Elbrus. They buy honey and fruit from roadside markets or enjoy an easygoing approach to nightlife that particularly appeals to travelers from more conservative regions. The sleepy little republic, which is home to a mix of ethnic Russians and Muslims, was also largely free of the insurgency that has set much of the North Caucasus Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia aflame. Even when the security services cracked down on alleged radical Islamists, closing mosques and harassing bearded men, few people took note.
All that changed last week when around 100 heavily armed guerrillas fanned out across the city to attack at least 10 major government targets. The sudden assault completely surprised authorities, all the way to Moscow. For 24 hours, the rebels besieged Nalchik, leaving terrified inhabitants with nothing but wildly inaccurate reports from the official media to explain what was going on. By the time local security forces and reinforcements from neighboring republics regained control, the city of 250,000 bore all the grim scars of urban warfare: bodies sprawled on sidewalks, in back alleys and outside apartment blocks and official buildings. Kids roamed the streets collecting shell casings.
"We never thought this would happen here," says Anastasia Zaitseva, whose workplace, a hotel opposite the Federal Security Service (fsb) headquarters, was on the front line. "We always believed this tragedy would pass us by." Instead, the persistent insurgency in the North Caucasus keeps spreading and what began in late 1994 as a war of secession in Chechnya is mutating into an Islamist jihad as it spills across the region.
Russian officials have regularly dismissed rebel threats to expand the war. Yet over the past two years fighting has progressed west from Chechnya to Ingushetia and North Ossetia, where last year hundreds died in the Beslan school siege. In the past 12 months, there have been almost daily attacks in Dagestan to the east. Now, the insurgency has moved north into Kabardino-Balkaria. Chechen secessionist websites hailed what they called a successful operation by the "Kabardino-Balkaria section of the Caucasus Front," praising it as proof that the strategy introduced by the Chechen insurgency's new leader, Abdul Khalim Sadulayev, was working. The 37-year-old cleric took over after his more moderate predecessor, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed in March. Since then, the tone and tactics of the conflict have taken a firmly radical turn. Rebel leaders go beyond criticizing the West's failure to denounce Russia's brutal tactics in Chechnya; they increasingly reject Western values based, they say, on "materialism and atheism." A "discussion document" circulating among Chechen guerrillas singles out Afghanistan's Taliban regime as the most theologically consistent modern Islamic state. The Islamist cast of the Nalchik attackers suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin now faces a growing threat from religious radicals determined to push the fight deeper into Russia.
The siege of Nalchik started around 10 a.m. on an ordinary Thursday morning, just as shops and offices were opening. The fighters appeared out of nowhere, swarming across the city. They hit the headquarters of the fsb and Interior Ministry, several large police stations, and a prison. At the fsb, a minibus carrying six armed men in uniforms and ski masks pulled up in front of the building. They clambered out of the van and charged. Evgeniya Sokurova, the manager of the Rossia Hotel just opposite, noticed them. "I said, 'It looks like there are training exercises going on,'" she recalls. "Then there was an enormous explosion."
Some attackers probably got into the building, since at one point Russian snipers across the way took fire from the spot. Most of the men from the minibus soon retreated to a nearby souvenir shop, where they holed up with hostages. The area quickly turned into a battle zone. A guerrilla sniper took down four soldiers as they ran across the square, killing at least one. Another rebel was cut off and took cover in a car in the middle of the square; hours later, hotel staff watched as he leapt out and sprinted under covering fire to the souvenir shop.
While local forces called for more help to quell the assault, Moscow downplayed the drama. Four hours after the attack began, the Kremlin announced it was all over. But sporadic clashes erupted during the night, and the next morning, guerrillas were still inside the souvenir shop and held a police station. Eventually, a group of ιlite Russian Spetsnaz soldiers with gas masks and small grenade launchers edged along the side of the souvenir shop. Shortly before their assault, Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General, Vladimir Kolesnikov, stressed that women were being held hostage inside. "We have to act with surgical precision," he said. Under cover of heavy machine-gun fire, the Spetsnaz pumped round after round of grenades into the small shop. After half an hour, they abruptly ceased fire and slipped off as quietly as they came. Journalists were told the hostages had been saved, though no one could explain how they survived the barrage.
A look at the corpses on the ground showed the guerrillas were mostly in their early twenties, well-armed and generously supplied with ammunition. Security officials were stunned by something else, too. According to one fsb officer, "amazingly, they were all locals," many from the city itself. Though the attackers included a sprinkling of Chechen and Ingush fighters, security officials say most were from an Islamic guerrilla group called Yarmuk that only recently surfaced. The cell first called for jihad in August 2004, and gained some local prominence with small attacks later that year. After last week's violence ended, officials variously described the attack as an attempt to seize arms or even capture the city. The guerrilla teams were big enough to terrorize, but not to hold their targets. It was not clear whether any rebels made away with stolen weapons.
For the guerrillas, the Nalchik raid was a savage, politically successful piece of armed propaganda. Many of the fighters seemed ready to die, and many did, though the death toll is hard to gauge as both sides distort casualty figures. A government source, who wished to remain anonymous because his estimate deviates from the official line, thinks at least half the attackers were killed. He put the losses among police and troops at more than 30, with about the same number of civilian deaths.
Those who saw Putin that day say he was furious at news of the assault. He issued crisp instructions that anyone bearing arms in the city who resisted arrest should be "eliminated." But the Nalchik raid has forced the Kremlin to confront the fact that it is fighting a war on more fronts than just Chechnya. Despite regular announcements of major victories there, Russian forces are merely holding their ground. Now Putin, his forces already stretched thin, will have to mount defenses in other republics as well. Nevertheless, Russian leaders hailed a victory for federal forces in Nalchik and promised to clean up the city quickly. The physical scars may well disappear soon, though Nalchik and perhaps the North Caucasus as a whole will never be the same
Profile: Shamil Basayev
The fearsome rebel leader has been wanted by Russian authorities for years in connection with bloody attacks in Russia, including the Beslan school hostage siege in which left at least 320 people dead.
Shamil Basayev, 40, has long threatened a series of "kamikaze" attacks inside Russia, arguing that Russian civilians were legitimate targets.
North Ossetian interior ministry spokesman Ismel Chaov has said of the last year's Beslan siege: "You can assume it was Basayev, because Basayev is behind most of the terrorist acts."
He led the first Chechen mass hostage-taking in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk in 1995 and he claimed to have organised the seizing of a Moscow theatre in 2002, during which 129 people died.
He is believed to have been behind a stadium bomb attack in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in May 2004, that killed Moscow-backed President Akhmad Kadyrov.
Mr Basayev is said to have organised a series of attacks on government buildings and police stations in neighbouring Ingushetia in June 2004, which left almost 100 people dead.
He has also boasted to have trained Chechen female suicide bombers - the infamous "Black Widows" brigade.
The fugitive warlord has vowed to fight the Russians at every opportunity and whatever the cost.
The Chechen nation is involved in the national liberation struggle for its freedom and independence and for its preservation Shamil Basayev
"The Chechen nation is involved in the national liberation struggle for its freedom and independence and for its preservation," he said in a statement in September 2004.
"It is not fighting to humiliate Russia or destroy it. This world will sooner be set on fire than we refuse to fight for our freedom and independence."
He is suspected of having links with al-Qaeda operatives, although denies ever having met Osama bin Laden.
"I have not met Bin Laden. I received no money from him, but I would not have declined the offer," he said in the September statement.
He blamed Moscow for the deaths in Beslan, in North Ossetia, which he called a "terrible tragedy" and denied killing any children.
"The storming was carried out by the Russian special services, which had planned that from the start," he said in the statement.
Shamil Basayev was born in January 1965, in the mountain village of Vedeno.
He bears the name of the famous mullah and warrior, Imam Shamil, who led the mountain tribes' resistance to the Tsarist armies in the last century.
Russia is the last empire: it is built on blood Shamil Basayev
His early career revealed romantic and revolutionary ambitions - he says he had a poster of Che Guevara on his wall as a student in Moscow.
He first came to prominence soon after the attempted communist coup d'etat in 1991, when he hijacked a Russian passenger jet and forced it to land in Ankara in Turkey.
There, he demanded a press conference to tell the world what was going on in Chechnya.
Mr Basayev went on to become one of the leading commanders of the resistance when Russian forces invaded Chechnya at the end of 1994.
"Russia is the last empire: it is built on blood," he said in a BBC interview in 1999.
When Russia was forced to withdraw its forces after the first Chechen war ended in 1996, Mr Basayev stood for president, but came second to Aslan Maskhadov - the more moderate separatist leader killed by Russian troops in March.
Mr Basayev also served briefly as prime minister in the self-proclaimed independent Chechen republic of Ichkeria in 1997.
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/europe/4727935.stm