PRAGUE, 19 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ruslan Nakhushev is the regional coordinator of the Russian Islamic Heritage, or RIN, a Moscow-based civic movement that works toward promoting dialogue between religious communities.
He is also the head of the Institute of Islamic Studies, a Nalchik-based nongovernmental organization that has been striving to mediate between regional officials and young Muslim dissidents who do not recognize the authority of the government-controlled Spiritual Board of Muslims.
Nakhushev went missing on 4 November 2005, three weeks after the deadly Nalchik raids. Colleagues and relatives say he disappeared after meeting with investigators at the regional headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB.
Why Nakhushev -- himself a retired KGB officer -- was summoned to the FSB remains unclear. One thing is sure, though -- he disappeared without a trace.
RIN deputy regional coordinator Susanna Varitlova tells RFE/RL that friends and relatives have repeatedly called upon Kabardino-Balkaria's President Arsen Kanokov and other officials to provide information on Nakhushev's whereabouts, but to no avail.
"We know nothing about him," Varitlova said. "We don't know where he is. We know absolutely nothing. It is as when someone drowns."
Days after Nakhushev was reported missing, the regional prosecutor's office charged him with links to the Nalchik raids and issued a search warrant against him. At the same time, Prosecutor Yury Ketov ordered that an investigation into his disappearance be launched. The probes are being conducted by the regional FSB and the Nalchik prosecutor's office, respectively.
Some officials have told relatives and friends that they believe the civic campaigner is hiding outside Kabardino-Balkaria, possibly in Moscow, or Kazakhstan. But for Anuar Dikinov, who was hired as a lawyer by Nakhushev's family, these claims are baseless.
"This is rubbish. This is wrong. Those are just speculations that have nothing to do with reality. I wrote to the [Russian] Prosecutor-General's Office to demand that they reverse [Ketov's] illegal order to open a criminal investigation against Nakhushev," Dikinov said. "Yesterday [16 January], I lodged a complaint with the Nalchik city court to that same effect. I can't even get a copy of Ketov's order. I asked the prosecuting judge and the [regional] prosecutor's office for a copy. They both refused, although I have the right to obtain a copy as a lawyer [for Nakhushev's family]."
Fearing The Worst
Many in Nalchik fear Nakhushev may have been killed.
Aleksandra Zernova is a London-based lawyer who is helping Kudayev and other former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were captured in Afghanistan and returned to Russia for lack of evidence. She is helping them prepare a lawsuit against the U.S. administration. For some people, she says, Nakhushev's death is not just mere speculation.
"All the information I have is based on what people I am in touch with in Kabardino-Balkaria. They tell me unbelievable stories of people who sit in their car and who are found later in the forest with a bullet in them. Nakhushev is not the only one who has disappeared," Zernova said. "One person I know [in Nalchik] was told -- not officially, of course -- where Nakhushev was taken and how his body was disposed of. [Local] reporters have been unofficially warned that should they investigate Nakhushev's disappearance, they would meet a similar fate and that their bodies would be dissolved in acid."
Zernova's client Kudayev was arrested nearly two weeks after the 13 October raids and sent to a pre-trial detention facility in Nalchik.
Kudayev is officially charged with participation in the unrest. Relatives claim the young man -- who, they say, because of a physical disability is not very mobile -- could not have possibly taken part in the attack.
But regional prosecutor Ketov told a 9 December press briefing he has no doubt that Kudayev is guilty: "Without going beyond what is authorized [by law] and without divulging any secret information, I can state that investigators have concrete facts showing that he was involved -- actively involved -- in the processes that took place [in Nalchik]."
On 2 December, Kudayev's relatives had released pictures they said showed the inmate was being tortured in custody. Authorities have denied the accusations.
Zernova says her client suddenly disappeared last month. On 16 January, a prison employee unofficially told her Kudayev had been transferred to a FSB detention facility in Pyatigorsk, a city in Russia's nearby Stavropol region.
"This woman [prison employee] told me, under condition of anonymity, that Kudayev had been sent there by order of [Aleksei] Sovrulin, the head of the investigating team. I called Sovrulin, but he told me he was not authorized to talk to me and comment on that topic," Zernova said.
Today, officials at the prison in Pyatigorsk refused to speak to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. Calls to the Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry remained similarly unanswered.
Kudayev's mother Fatima Tekayeva today went to Pyatigorsk in an attempt to obtain information about her son. She talked to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service upon her return to Nalchik: "I went to Pyatigorsk today to inquire about my son Rasul. I want to know where he is. But no one expressed willingness to talk to me. Other people there told me authorities are trying to isolate him. For what reasons, I can't say. No one wants to talk to me about [Rasul]. The only answer I got is: 'we're not authorized to talk to you.' That's it, short and clear."
Zernova tells RFE/RL she vainly tried to obtain confirmation from President Kanokov's office and government structures. She also says Kudayev disappeared shortly after meeting with Kanokov.
"Arsen Bashirovich [Kanokov] visited him [in prison] on 14 December. Also present was [Dmitry] Kozak, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District," Zernova says. "[Rasul] told them he was innocent, that he and his prison mates had been tortured and that he was still being tortured. They listened to him and pledged to look into his case. After that he disappeared. He told his mother about this meeting in a letter. In it, he also says he was the only one to complain [to Kanokov and Kozak] and that the other detainees were afraid. He says he was the only one to complain and tell [them] all the truth."
Tekayeva says prison officials a few weeks ago stopped taking delivery of the drugs her son needs for medical treatment. She also says she fears for her son's life.
Meanwhile, Kabardino-Balkaria's Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court's decision to bar three Nalchik lawyers from representing detainees arrested in the wake of the October raids. In November, the Nalchik municipal court sidelined Irina Komissarova, Inna Golitsyna, and Larisa Dorogova after they complained their clients were being tortured in custody.
The three lawyers have said that they will appeal last week's ruling before the European Court of Human Rights.
(RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service correspondent Aminat Kardanova contributed to this report)