Seven weeks ago, the trial began
in the North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don of the Ingush insurgency commander known as Emir Magas, who had been betrayed to the Russian security services and apprehended three years earlier
. He faces 24 charges
ranging from setting up an armed militant group, illegal arms trafficking, and inciting a rebellion to the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and terrorism.
From the first day of the court hearings, Magas has consistently denied almost all the charges against him, including two suicide car bombings, one in June 2009 in which Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was seriously injured
, and a second two months later that killed 25 people at the Nazran central police station and injured a further 140. He pleads guilty only to the lesser charges of setting up an illegal armed group and illegal possession of weapons.
The identity of the man known as Emir Magas is unclear. He has been charged in the name of Ali Taziyev, a former Ingush police officer who disappeared in October 1998 following the abduction in Nazran of the wife of a Russian official whom he and a colleague had been detailed to escort. The woman was released in February 2000; Taziyev's colleague was found dead; and Taziyev himself disappeared. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who investigated the abduction, was told by Taziyev's family that they were certain he was no longer alive. When Politkovskaya showed them a photo of Basayev with a second fighter whom the authorities had identified as Taziyev, they said the man in the photo was definitely not Taziyev.
In a December 2008 address on the occasion of the festival of Eid, Magas identified himself
as Akhmed Yevloyev. According to the website Kavkaz-Uzel
, Akhmad Yevloyev was born in Grozny in either 1974 or 1978. (Ali Taziyev was born in the Ingush village of Nasyrkort.) Yevloyev did not fight in the 1994-96 war, but in 1996 joined the radical Islamist faction that set about undermining Aslan Maskhadov within months of his election as Chechen president in January 1997.
Yevloyev reportedly participated in the ill-fated incursion into Daghestan in August 1999 that precipitated the outbreak of the second war, fighting under the command
first of Shamil Basayev, then of Abu al-Walid. In April 2004, Basayev named Magas commander of the Ingush insurgency wing, and he and Basayev jointly commanded the June 2004 multiple attacks across Ingushetia in which dozens of police and security personnel were killed.
Russian media said a commander named Magomed Yevloyev played a key role in both the Ingush raid and the September 2004 school hostage-taking in Beslan; one source identified that commander as Taziyev, who allegedly used
Yevloyev's identity documents. But the Beslan hostage taking is not one of the crimes for which Magas is currently on trial. Nor is the attack in May 2006
in which Ingushetian First Deputy Interior Minister Dzhabrail Kostoyev was killed. "Magomed Yevloyev" claimed responsibility for that attack.
In an interview in October 2006, shortly after then Chechen Republic-Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named him military commander of the entire Caucasus Front, Magas said that for the past few years he had worked to mold the various disparate Ingush fighting units into a single fighting force
under one commander. Magas also mentioned in that interview the effort put into creating so-called special operative groups comprised of "the most experienced fighters," that engaged primarily in killing police and other officials suspected of having engaged in reprisals against Muslims.
The effectiveness of those efforts is reflected in the upsurge in violence in Ingushetia that began in the early summer of 2007
and continued through the fall of the following year. But not all killings of senior Ingushetian officials were the work of the special operative groups. For example, Magas explicitly denied
that his men were behind an attack in August 2006 on the home of a local prosecutor in which the man's brother was killed and a dozen other men injured. That attack, like the killings of ethnic Russians in summer 2007, may have been perpetrated by unidentified Russian-speaking gunmen.
There is also circumstantial evidence suggesting Russian involvement in one of the three major terrorist attacks with which Magas is charged -- the bomb explosion at the Nevinnomyssk bus station in December 2007 in which three people died and 17 were injured. The prosecution's claim that Magas masterminded that attack apparently rests largely on the testimony of Ruslan Kostoyev, who together with Zurab Tsoroyev was tried and convicted in September 2009 of actually placing under a seat in the bus an explosive device that Kostoyev claims was given to him
by a man he knew as Ali Taziyev. Magas's defense lawyer recalled in court on May 22 that during his trial in 2009, Kostoyev denied under oath
he was acquainted with Taziyev.
Kostoyev said he left a second identical bomb given to him by Taziyev in the Ingushetian village of Ekazhevo. An expert testified
that the second bomb contained hexogen. Hexogen was the explosive used in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Buynaksk; it is available only from government facilities
under the control of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which raises the question how Magas could have acquired any.
To date, at least half the witness for the prosecution summoned to testify about the circumstances of the Nevinnomyssk bombing have failed to show up in court.
The prosecution's claim that Magas was behind the June 2009 attempt to assassinate Yevkurov is similarly questionable. Two weeks after the attack, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov identified Akhmad Yevloyev, aka Magas , as having masterminded it
. He did not say how the security forces had come to that conclusion.
Three months later, however, two senior Russian officials named different figures. On October 13, FSB head Aleksandr Bortnikov told a session
of the National Counterterror Commission that the attack had been solved and the organizers, Ingush fighters Rustam Dzortov and Abdul-Malik Aliyev, had been killed. Just 24 hours later, however, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin named
insurgency ideologue Said Buryatsky and Ingush fighter Magomed Tsokiyev as the organizers.
Yevkurov was called as a witness on June 20, and described what happened on the morning of the car-bomb attack. In a heated exchange with Yevkurov in the courtroom, Taziyev denied he ever harmed anyone, and declared he will repent
for his actions only to Allah. Yevkurov told journalists
later that during a one-on-one meeting with Taziyev during a break in the proceedings, the latter again denied playing any part in the attack on Yevkurov.