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Analysis: An Executioner Confesses

By Liz Fuller

The independent Ingush website posted a statement on 22 May addressed to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov from a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who recently ended a tour of duty in Ingushetia. The signatory, Igor N. Onishchenko, admitted to having worked since early 2003 as a member of a death squad in Ingushetia, during which time he worked with five other officers, abducting and murdering people suspected of either openly criticizing Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov or of links to the Chechen resistance. The quota they were required to fill was a minimum of five detentions per week.

Onishchenko said that on orders from the head of the FSB department in Ingushetia, General Sergei Koryakov, "I personally...crippled more than 50 people and buried about 35." (Koryakov was commandeered to Ingushetia by Russian President Vladimir Putin and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, Onishchenko wrote, referring to hearsay.) Specifically, Onishchenko claimed to have personally tortured and killed an unnamed local prosecutor who had allegedly collected materials incriminating Koryakov, and whom Koryakov "had been hunting down for a long time." The website construed that statement as a reference to 29-year-old Rashid Ozdoev, a senior assistant to the Ingushetian prosecutor who was responsible for liaison with the local FSB.

Ozdoev was himself abducted on 11 March and taken to the infamous detention center at the Russian military base at Khankala in Chechnya. His family has appealed both to President Zyazikov and to Russian President Putin for help in locating him, but without success. In an article published on 15 April in "Novaya gazeta," journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote that at the time of his disappearance, Ozdoev had just completed an investigation of the recent wave of disappearances of residents of Ingushetia, and had collected materials implicating both local law enforcement officials and Koryakov. He had sent those materials to Prosecutor-General Ustinov. Politkovskaya also quoted Ozdoev as having told his father that he was aware of the risk he was taking in doing so, but adding, "If the agency I supervise is implicated in abductions and murders, then I am the sole person in Ingushetia who has the legal right to demand" that appropriate measures be taken to stop those killings.

On 26 April, Zyazikov finally agreed to meet with Ozdoev's father Boris and with Politkovskaya, according to "Novaya gazeta" on 6 May. During that meeting, Zyazikov claimed that there have been only seven abductions in recent months, rather than the 33 that Rashid Ozdoev documented. He then claimed to have been misinformed by the local prosecutor's office and laid the blame for the failure to locate and release people who have been abducted on the Ingushetian Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Kukushkin, a Russian who was appointed to that post following Zyazikov's election as Ingushetian president in April 2002, reportedly left Ingushetia in early April. Zyazikov reportedly plans to name his devoted supporter Yakub Kartoev to replace him, according to on 4 May.

While does not vouch for the authenticity of the facsimile of Onishchenko's letter that it reproduces, it does claim to have established that Onishchenko did work in Ingushetia and that the letter bearing his signature was indeed received by the Prosecutor-General's Office (it bears the relevant stamp dated 12 April) and forwarded to the subdivision of the Prosecutor-General's Office within the Southern Federal District (which stamped it on 16 April). That said, it should be borne in mind that the website is reportedly financed by Zyazikov's Moscow-based political rivals, Mikhail and Khamzat Gutseriev.