Local police have identified the participants in the 13 October armed raids on Nalchik as members of the Yarmuk djamaat -- a group with reported links to the Chechen resistance. Ninety-five militants were killed in the violence, according to KBR police. Police had earlier claimed that they had killed Yarmuk members, including its alleged leader Muslin Atayev, in two shoot-outs in Nalchik in January and April of this year.
The Chechen resistance website chechenpress.org on 17 October posted a statement from Yarmuk's press service confirming, first that its members participated in the Nalchik raids, and second, that Yarmuk is part of the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front. The front was proclaimed in May by Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, the successor to slain Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov.
Even prior to the October raids, the predominantly ethnic Kabardian police force systematically targeted young men suspected of belonging to underground Islamic organizations. There are reportedly over 20 Muslim youth organizations in the KBR that are not under the control of the republic's Muslim Spiritual Board.
But many have questioned whether the authorities are targeting the right people.
In a recent article for "Novaya gazeta," Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote that many of the young men rounded up by police since 13 October on suspicion of participating in the attacks belong to a different underground organization, the Kabardino-Balkar djamaat.
The Kabardino-Balkar djamaat was headed by Musa Mukozhev and Anzor Astemirov, both of whom were reportedly close to Nakhushev. Mukozhev is reportedly a protege of former KBR mufti Shafig Pshikhachev, who sent him to study Islamic theology in "the Arab East." Mukozhev reportedly developed into a brilliant and charismatic preacher who on his return to Nalchik began preaching at the mosque in Volnyi Aul, a Nalchik suburb. He swiftly won a large following and a reputation as the republic's spiritual leader, according to Politkovskaya.
There was reportedly little or no contact between members of the largely peaceful Kabardino-Balkaria djamaat and the ultra-secretive Yarmuk. Politkovskaya claimed in her article that, at least until last year, the Kabardino-Balkar djamaat simply sought freedom of worship, in contrast to similar organizations in Chechnya and Ingushetia whose members want the creation of an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus.
In fact, Mukozhev's insistence on the purely peaceful study of Islam earned him criticism from both Yarmuk and radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev. But after the September 2004 hostage-taking in Beslan, North Ossetia, the KBR police began systematically warning members of the moderate Kabardino-Balkar djamaat to abandon their faith. And both Mukozhev and Astemirov were identified as suspects in the December 2004 armed raid, for which Yarmuk claimed responsibility, on the Federal Anti-Narcotics Service in Nalchik.
Early this year Mukozhev and Astemirov went underground. Astemirov joined Basayev, and is seen with Basayev on a video that was posted on the kavkazcenter.com website in late October. The footage showed a meeting of field commanders prior to the Nalchik raids. Basayev subsequently claimed to have participated in the planning of that operation.
In an interview given to "Kommersant-Daily" shortly before his disappearance and posted on 7 November on kavkazweb.net, Nakhushev emphatically denied that Basayev exercises any authority over the Kabardino-Balkaria djamaat. Nakhushev said that the djamaat has its own amir, but declined to name him. "Basayev is a nobody here," Nakhushev said in that interview. Politkovskaya for her part quoted a member of Mukozhev's congregation as suggesting that Astemirov joined forces with Basayev only because he was forced into a corner and had no alternative.
Reining In Radical Islam
Nakhushev's role as a mediator was well known. His institute served as a center for debate among Islamic scholars both from within the KBR and elsewhere.
Nakhushev reportedly worked to bridge the gap between young believers and the KBR authorities, trying to persuade the latter to halt police reprisals against the former. According to kavkaz.memo.ru on 7 November, Nakhushev was not a practicing Muslim; he was also a member of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.
Arsen Kanokov, who was confirmed as KBR president in late September, acknowledged Nakhushev's positive role, referring to him in a 3 November interview in "Novaya gazeta" as someone "who has offered help and assistance." Kanokov's plans to meet with Nakhushev were thwarted by his disappearance.
If Kanokov considered Nakhushev a potential ally in his efforts to neutralize the perceived threat of an upsurge of radical Islam, who sought to prevent that alliance, and why?
Newsru.com on 7 November quoted Nakhushev as reasoning that the "siloviki" -- the republic's law-enforcement and security agencies, whose heads were appointed by Kanokov's predecessor Valery Kokov -- have a vested interest in perpetuating the perception of an Islamic threat in order to be able to demonstrate to their superiors in Moscow their success in countering that threat.
There are also signs of differences of opinion between Kanokov and the Russian Interior Ministry. Newsru.com on 7 November quoted "Kommersant-Daily" as writing that Kanokov wants to fire KBR Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov and other unnamed "siloviki" whom he "inherited" from Kokov, but the Russian Interior Ministry refuses to endorse those dismissals.