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Four Years After Nalchik, How Strong Is Insurgency In Kabardino-Balkaria?

A counterterrorism operation in Nalchik in May 2009

A counterterrorism operation in Nalchik in May 2009

Four years ago, on October 13, 2005, a group of desperate and badly prepared young Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria launched simultaneous attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik, the republican capital.

The operation was a disaster: 95 young men were killed, of whom only 37 were actual fighters, according to the resistance website "The Guardian" one week later quoted a witness to the fighting who recalled hearing one of the young attackers holed up in the security-service building yell to a comrade-in-arms, "How do you reload a grenade launcher?"

The Nalchik attacks were planned by members of the so-called Yarmuk jamaat, which had staged a series of isolated attacks on police facilities across the republic over the previous two years. Most of the young fighters were said to be devout but hitherto law-abiding Muslims who had been apprehended by police and security forces and subjected to torture, and who sought revenge on the police for that brutality and humiliation.

In a recent interview, Arsen Kanokov, whom then-Russian President Vladimir Putin had named Kabardino-Balkaria Republic president just weeks before the attacks, termed that heavy-handed approach on the part of police and security personnel "a mistake," and said that the situation has since improved "slightly" thanks to efforts to engage young believers and warn them of the dangers of radical Islam. But at the same time he admitted that some police officials continue to "inflict damage."

In June 2008, Kanokov had warned the republic's parliament that "the number of adherents of radical Islam is on the increase," and that a repeat of the Nalchik attacks could not be ruled out. Boris Pashtov, who heads the KBR Ministry for Information Communications, Public Organizations, and Youth Affairs, similarly admitted in April 2009 that "the problem of Islamic radicalism in Kabardino-Balkaria is still in a phase that requires heightened attention." And a senior FSB official admitted in July that resistance emissaries seek to recruit fighters among the republic's students.

The Yarmuk jamaat that formed the nucleus of the Nalchik attackers has since been subsumed into a larger fighting unit, the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaat. But the incidence of insurgent attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria remains far lower than in either Ingushetia or Daghestan.

Apart from the shooting in November 2007 of nine members of a hunting party whom they apparently mistakenly identified as security personnel and the drive-by killing in January 2008 in Nalchik of a senior Interior Ministry official and his driver, resistance fighters have generally confined themselves to picking off individual police officers on the outskirts of Nalchik.

According to KBR prosecutor Oleg Zharikov, there were 16 attacks on police in 2007 and 36 in 2008. Thirty-six police and security personnel were killed a further 29 injured last year; seven militants were killed and 10 arrested. (By contrast, over 70 police and security personnel were killed in Ingushetia in 2008 and 167 injured.)

Zharikov added, however, that militants are constantly collecting and evaluating information about individual police officers, establishing secret bases and arms caches, and seeking to recruit more young supporters, including though propaganda on the internet.

Since January this year, police in Kabardino-Balkaria have launched a series of counterterrorism operations, in February, April, late May, June, and August, in which at least 18 militants were killed. The dead included former Yarmuk veteran Musa Mukozhev, one of the organizers of the Nalchik attacks; international sambo (a Russian form of self-defense) champion Murat Ristov; and Adamey Jappuyev.

Valery Ustov, the ranking prosecutor's office investigator for the KBR, described those killings to RIA Novosti in August as having dealt "a serious blow" to the resistance forces. He predicted that while the resistance may continue to attract new recruits, the numbers will not be as great as in the past.

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.