In the mid-2000s, the Republic of Ingushetia experienced an unprecedented upsurge in fighting between the security forces and the North Caucasus insurgency that cost the lives of hundreds of law enforcement personnel, on the one hand, and both militants and seemingly law-abiding young Muslim men on the other.
Then in October 2008, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed republican President Murat Zyazikov, on whom many observers blamed the indiscriminate crackdown on young believers, and named Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a career military intelligence officer, to succeed him.
The violence peaked in the summer of 2009 with bomb attacks on Yevkurov personally and on police headquarters in Nazran, but it has since subsided. Sixteen people died in fighting between security personnel and insurgents in 2015, compared with 94 five years previously. Yevkurov declared in May 2015 that the insurgency had been "defeated" and numbered not much more than a dozen fighters.
That comparative lull may be coming to an end, however.
In late May, the National Antiterrorism Committee reported the killing in two "special operations" in the towns of Nazran and Malgobek of five men, all of whom were officially identified as either members of the extremist group Islamic State (IS) or support personnel. Up to 17 people suspected of links with IS have been apprehended over the past three weeks by the Federal Security Service (FSB), and arms reportedly found at their homes. One of them was a police officer, a search of whose home in Ekazhevo, southeast of Nazran, likewise reportedly yielded a cache of weapons.
In addition, in a tactic widely used in 2007, a man was killed on May 31 in Ekazhevo when unidentified perpetrators opened fire on his car.
And a federal Interior Ministry Internal Troops base in Sunzha district that borders on Chechnya was subjected to mortar fire on June 5.
Meanwhile, bloggers and human rights activists have openly questioned the official version of the two special operations. While official media reported that the five alleged militants were killed in shoot-outs, and Yevkurov claimed they were planning acts of terrorism on republic Day (June 4), eyewitnesses say none of the men -- two of whom were siblings -- was armed or offered any resistance. According to Magomed Mutsolgov, whose NGO Mashr provides free legal advice to victims of police violence or miscarriages of justice, the purpose of the operations was to detain suspects, and "in the Caucasus for some reason [security forces] can't apprehend anyone without shooting a couple of other people."
Similarly open to question is whether, as Yevkurov claimed, the men killed and taken into custody did indeed have links with IS. It was reported a year ago that the head of the North Caucasus insurgency's Ingushetia wing had sworn allegiance to IS, but that has never been confirmed.
While the overall pattern of violence is at first glance similar to the bloodshed of 2007-09, the circumstances today are very different. First, as noted above, the Islamic insurgency poses no major threat to order or security. And second, relations between Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya, uneasy at the best of times, have deteriorated since the start of 2016 seemingly as a result of Yevkurov's support of a Muslim community that is at odds with Ingushetia's official clergy.
Even though the acknowledged leader of that community, Sheikh Khamzat Chumakov, has repeatedly publicly eschewed violence and enjoined his supporters not to take up arms, acting Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov and other senior Chechen clerics have branded its members "terrorists" and extremists, apparently based on their faith in a moderate variant of the Salafi strain of Islam that imbues the ideology of IS.
The suspicion thus arises: Has Yevkurov staged an apparent crackdown on "suspected Salafi militants" to counter the Chechen allegations that he is too soft on Islamic extremism?
Meeting on June 3 with visiting members of the presidential Commission for Human Rights and Civil Society, Yevkurov was clearly on the defensive, defending the killings of the five alleged IS militants.
He also rejected as an attempt to drive a wedge between himself and Kadyrov a request by Committee Against Torture head Igor Kalyapin to speed up the investigation into an attack in March on the Chechen-Ingush border on a group of human rights activists and foreign journalists, several of whom were seriously injured. The perpetrators of that attack were tentatively identified as Chechens.