URUS-MARTAN, Russia -- Chechnya's First Deputy Interior Minister Apti Alaudinov has threatened to use illegal methods -- including summary killings and the planting of false evidence -- in an effort to remove Islamic fundamentalists from a former rebel stronghold in the southern Russian region.
Alaudinov made the remarks in a recent speech to local officials in the town of Urus-Martan, about 20 kilometers southwest of Grozny, the Chechen capital. A video of Alaudinov's remarks was posted on the Internet on December 12.
In the video, Alaudinov can be heard telling a roomful of municipal authorities -- including a new police station chief in Urus-Martan -- that he had been granted limitless powers by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whom he called "the ruler."
Alaudinov said those powers included the authority to imprison or even kill people for merely appearing to look like an Islamist fundamentalist.
"If there is a slightest resemblance with Wahabbists, I personally took it under my control," he said.
"Here is a new police chief next to us. I personally told him: 'Smash them. If you want to put somebody in jail, put them there. If there is a chance to plant some kind of evidence in somebody's pocket, plant it. Do whatever you want to do and kill anyone you want to kill.' The ruler asked me to pass this message to [the police chief.] I swear to God I support that."
Urus-Martan has been the scene of many insurgent attacks and was a stronghold for Islamist separatist rebels during the 1990s.
In 1999, when Russian troops were battling separatists in Chechnya and Russian aircraft were bombing Grozny, at least 2,000 Islamist militants were thought to be sheltering in Urus-Martan -- effectively blocking one of the main overland routes to the capital.
Alaudinov accused some officials in Urus-Martan of turning a blind eye toward Islamic militancy when their own relatives were involved. He said that practice would end.
"There will be no more ways to cover up for your relatives. There will be no more situations when you say: 'Oh, this is my relative. They have to be protected from punishment while others are punished,'" he said. "Everybody has to put his own house in order."
Alaudinov also threatened that any person who criticizes Kadyrov or his administration will be punished for their dissent.
'A State Within A State'
Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director and senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that Alaudinov's remarks illustrated how Chechen authorities routinely violate Russian law and are "totally out of synch with Russia's human rights obligations under international law."
"It is definitely a pattern for Chechnya. It's been happening for years now. Mr. Kadyrov really runs Chechnya as a state within a state and Russian law is not applicable to Chechnya in practice," Lokshina said.
"In theory, Chechnya is just another region of the Russian Federation. But in fact, collective responsibility and collective-punishment practices are widespread in Chechnya. And this is something that Kadyrov is not even encouraging, but rather, ordering personally," she continued.
"So it's no wonder that high-level police officials make statements like that if the head of the republic is also well known for making similar statements."
Lokshina said that such remarks should never be uttered by any public official because they are "completely lawless" and "extremely threatening."
But unfortunately, she concluded, Alaudinov's comments reflected a mentality that she said was typical of police in Chechnya.