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Russia: Prominent Oppositionist Goes Missing In Nalchik

TV footage of the October Nalchik raids (AFP) Ruslan Nakhushev, a respected opposition figure and Islamic scholar in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, went missing on 4 November after being questioned by local security agents. While his colleagues fear his disappearance may be retribution for his human rights activities, others are pointing to his past as a secret service officer and raising questions about his allegiances. All, however, agree that Nakhushev's disappearance is most likely connected to the 13-14 October armed raids on the republic's capital, Nalchik.

Moscow, 7 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ruslan Nakhushev is the director of the Center for Islamic Studies in Nalchik and works for a local human rights group.

He is also one of the most vocal critics of the local government in Kabardino-Balkariya, a small North Caucasus republic that is still reeling from the bloody attacks by young Muslims dissidents on Nalchik last month.

Nakhushev's colleagues say he called them late on 4 November after being questioned by security agents. He reportedly said he was on his way to the office.

Nakhushev, however, failed to turn up either at his office or at his home. According to AP, when colleagues called his mobile phone, they heard an unfamiliar voice laughing before hanging up. Since then, his phone has been switched off.

Officials at the regional Federal Security Service (FSB) have confirmed that Nakhushev's departure from their headquarters was noted in a log book. But they say they have no information about his whereabouts.

His sister, Fatima Nakhusheva, told RFE/RL today that her family's efforts to find him had so far yielded no result.

"Our priority is to search for my brother, to find out where he is. Right now we don't know anything. We've sent declarations to all law-enforcement agencies and we are waiting for their answers. There is no answer," Nakhusheva said.

Nakhushev has reportedly been under tight FSB surveillance in connection with the activities of his former deputies at the Center for Islamic Studies, Anzor Astemirov and Musa Mukozhoev

The authorities regard Astemirov and Mukozhoev as influential underground Muslim leaders and have accused them of masterminding last month's raid on Nalchik.

Astemirov was also allegedly involved in an attack on the Federal Drug Control in Nalchik in December 2004 during which four officials were killed and caseloads of weapons and ammunition stolen.

Fighting Extremist Trends

Nakhushev, however, has said that his aim was to prevent the radicalization of young Muslims in the republic and has described the Center for Islamic Studies as a platform of dialogue between radical Muslim youths and the Muslim clergy.

Shamil Beno is one of the leaders of the Russian Muslim Heritage, a movement founded in March to consolidate Russia's Muslim community and fight extremist trends. Nakhushev worked closely with this movement.

Beno categorically rules out the possibility that Nakhushev went into hiding.

"He is a very serious person, he could not have disappeared just like that, he is a responsible, adult, and serious person. He could not have left or fled anywhere on his own, because he was absolutely not guilty and federal authorities know very well that he is not guilty since we have informed them about the situation in Kabardino-Balkariya through our contacts," Beno said.

Nakhushev does indeed enjoy -- at least formally -- relatively good relations with the local government.

A few days before his disappearance, Kabardino-Balkariya's newly elected leader, Arsen Kanokov, praised Nakhushev's activities and said he had the power to help authorities understand the demands of those who staged the Nalchik raid.

Like many, Kanokov has blamed the former president for driving young Muslims underground by banning all forms of religious life that did not fit into the framework of the government-controlled Spiritual Board of Muslims. Some also say that poverty and systematic police intimidation and abuse against practicing Muslims contributed to fuel Islamic extremism in Kabardino-Balkariya.

Muslim leader Beno says Nakhushev is likely to have run into trouble with law-enforcement agencies over his humanitarian activities.

"I think that Ruslan Nakhushev's problem lies in the fact that his civic activity in the republic was not needed by law-enforcement agencies. Law-enforcement agencies, particularly Interior Ministry structures, could have taken action against Nakhushev to prevent him from making public comments or declarations during interrogations, or during a possible trial, about human rights violations committed by the GUBOP [State Department for the Fight Against Organized Crime] in Kabardino-Balkariya," Beno said.

Some experts, however, have cast doubt over Nakhushev's activities and allegiances. They point to his past as a KGB officer and say he is likely to have been working closely recentlywith secret services.

Yuri Shanibov, a lecturer in political science at Nalchik's university, says Nakhushev has not played a clear-cut and positive role in easing tensions in the republic.

"The community of researchers, unfortunately, doesn't at all understand and is not at all acquainted with the work of this institute. If he [Nakhushev] was carrying out research, he should have foreseen where this youth organization, this group of believers, was going, and it was his duty to warn the republic that we were heading for this disaster. This is why it is hard to say whom he was working for and what role he played. At any rate, he didn't play a positive role," Shanibov said.

The Russian Muslim Heritage's Beno says he still has hope to find Nakhushev alive and well.

But he says Nakhushev's failure to turn up for his scheduled interrogation tomorrow at the FSB would bode ill.

Nalchik In Pictures

Nalchik In Pictures

A slideshow look at the October 13-14 violence in Nalchik, capital of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.