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Daghestan's Leaders Issue Ultimatum To Militants

Daghestan's Magomedsalam Magomedov (file photo)

Daghestan's Magomedsalam Magomedov (file photo)

Senior officials in Daghestan issued a "final warning" last week to Islamic militants that if they refuse to lay down their arms, "they will be destroyed."

That ultimatum represents a retreat from repeated earlier assurances by President Magomedsalam Magomedov that "we do not intend to rely solely on force methods...we are open for dialogue" with those fighters who wish to return to a normal life. The volte face is all the more surprising insofar as in recent months, several officials and analysts have conceded that the indiscriminate use of force against persons suspected of belonging to, or even sympathizing with the Islamic insurgency only serves to drive ever more young men to join its ranks.

Establishing a dialogue with the insurgents was one of the priorities Magomedov listed during his inaugural speech as president in late February. Magomedov has since reiterated that offer on several occasions: after the suicide bombing in Kizlyar in late March; in an interview with the Russian daily "Kommersant" in May; and again in his annual address to parliament last month.

Meanwhile, it has been proposed to repeal the controversial 1999 law banning "Wahhabism," meaning the Salafi strain of Islam espoused in the late 1990s by the radical wing of the Chechen resistance, and later by militant groups in other North Caucasus republics. That law served to rationalize systematic police reprisals against Muslims who, as Magomedov's presidential predecessor Mukhu Aliyev put it, "pray differently."

The Russian human rights movement Memorial has documented numerous cases of the arrest and torture of young Muslim men in Daghestan. Memorial has also reported on counterterrorism operations in which, in an excess of zeal, Daghestan's Interior Ministry and security forces have ruthlessly killed people who are posthumously shown to have had no connection whatsoever with the Islamic insurgency.

'Clearly Inadequate' Security

It is not clear what prompted Magomedov to toughen his position. Certainly the security situation in Daghestan has deteriorated steadily over the past few years, and since he took office five months ago. But even though militant attacks have become more frequent, more sophisticated, and more deadly, they are still concentrated primarily in the towns of Makhachkala, Khasavyurt, and Derbent, and the Kizilyurt, Buynaksk, Karabudakhkent and Untsukul districts. According to Daghestan Interior Minister Major General Ali Magomedov (no relation to Magomedsalam), there are just nine militant groups currently operating in Daghestan with an estimated total manpower of 190 men.

On July 22, the day after the attack by militants on the Baksan hydroelectric power plant in Kabardino-Balkaria, Magomedov convened a joint session of the republic's Security Council and Counterterror Commission at which he described efforts to contain and suppress the Islamic insurgency as "clearly inadequate."

Magomedov said there had been 23 terrorist attacks in Daghestan so far this year, and that 78 police and security personnel had been killed and 143 wounded by militant groups. He also noted that the insurgents had recently adopted a new tactic, blowing up rail lines; and that they had stepped up their blackmail of businessmen from who they extort funds to continue their "jihad."

Vyacheslav Shanshin, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate in Daghestan, accused unnamed local officials of turning a blind eye to the activities of persons known to be members of the insurgency.

It was Rizvan Kurbanov, first deputy prime minister with responsibility for police and security, who in a subsequent press briefing announced the new ultimatum to militants. Kurbanov warned that persons who assist militants by providing them with food and shelter will also be targeted. He said a special unit of some 800 men would be created within the Interior Ministry to focus exclusively on tracking down insurgents, and that residents of many rural areas were keen to set up volunteer groups to help the police "establish order."

The insurgents' response to Kurbanov's warning was predictable: the following day, four Russian servicemen were shot dead in Buynaksk, and one policeman died and a second was wounded when militants opened fire on them in Kizilyurt.

Meanwhile, the still unsolved abduction on July 22 of Vladimir Redkin, the chief engineer at the Sulak hydroelectric power station in central Daghestan, has raised concern that militants may be planning a Baksan-style attack on similar facilities in Daghestan. President Magomedov met on July 25 with visiting senior Russian energy-sector officials to discuss what additional security measures would be most effective in preventing such attacks.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.