Over 100 people have been detained and questioned in Chechnya over the past two weeks, since three men were killed in a mysterious explosion south-west of Grozny late on February 23, according to the Moscow-based human rights watchdog Memorial.
The explosion took place on the highway that runs along the dam of a reservoir linking the settlements of Chechnoreche and Aldy. Two of the dead men were identified within hours as Dokka Khachukayev, 30, deputy director of a local school, and Islamic Institute student Said-Magomed Paramazov, 23, both from the village of Elin-Yurt (Gvardeyskoye) in the extreme north-west of Chechnya, on the border with Stavropol Krai. The third man, whose surname Caucasian Knot gave as Zavrayev, was from Nadtereche, a little further east.
Caucasian Knot quoted an unnamed member of the Chechen security services as saying none of the three dead men was a known insurgent. A Chernoreche resident told the same news agency that the men were clean-shaven and wearing civilian clothes. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov nonetheless announced during a visit to Chernoreche on February 27 that three insurgents had attempted to blow up the dam.
It is not clear from available reports when the dead men last had contact with their families, meaning whether they may have been apprehended hours or days earlier, possibly drugged, and then taken to the site of the explosion. If Kadyrov’s claim that they were trying to blow up the dam, but the bomb exploded prematurely, is true, the questions arise: where did they obtain the explosives, who assembled the bomb, and how did they transport it to the dam?
If on the other hand the object of the exercise was indeed to demonstrate that the insurgency still poses a serious threat (despite Kadyrov’s repeated statements that it now numbers only a handful of fighters), and security personnel loyal to Kadyrov staged the blast, why was it considered necessary to depart from the practice, long-established in Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria, of snatching civilians, dressing them in camouflage fatigues, shooting them dead, and then announcing in front of a TV camera that they were killed during a “counter-terror operation”?
A third possible explanation, communicated to RFE/RL’s Radio Marsho, is that the three men did plant the bomb, but it exploded prematurely. Their motive was allegedly to protest the Chechen authorities’ failure to pay construction workers who participated in the reconstruction of the kilometer-long highway along the top of the dam. That two-year renovation was completed last summer.
Within hours of the blast, police detained the families of Khachukayev and Paramazov in Elin-Yurt. They were reportedly questioned for several days, and then released and told to leave Chechnya, in line with orders issued by Kadyrov following the insurgents' attack on Grozny in December 2014 that families of men known to have participated in that attack should be expelled from the republic.
Since then, however, more Elin-Yurt residents have been detained, not all of whom have been released. One man, construction worker Kana Afanasyev, 23, was apprehended in Grozny on February 26. His dead body, which bore marks on the wrists from electric shocks, was returned to his family that night. Afanasyev had left Chechnya in 2013 for Sweden, where his wife gave birth to a child; he returned to Chechnya three months ago after his application for political asylum was rejected.
-- Liz Fuller