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Grozny Attack Underscores Chechen Insurgents' Military Capabilities


Special forces stand outside the parliament building in Grozny. At least six people were killed in the militant attack.
Special forces stand outside the parliament building in Grozny. At least six people were killed in the militant attack.
There has not yet been any claim of responsibility for this morning's suicide attack on the parliament building in Grozny. But there can be little doubt that it was planned and carried out by the same group of veteran Chechen field commanders who were responsible for the equally audacious attack seven weeks ago on Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's home village of Tsentoroi, in which up to 15 of Kadyrov's men were killed.

The August 29 raid on Tsentoroi included a squad of 10 suicide bombers. According to Russian media reports, this morning's attack was the work of three, possibly four fighters, including at least one suicide bomber.

In July 2009, Muslim Gakayev, the sole surviving brother of then Eastern Front deputy commander Khuseyn Gakayev, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that the Shali sector of the Eastern Front that he heads had at that time 20 fighters ready to stage suicide attacks.* That information was not used for broadcast.

In this morning's attack, one fighter reportedly blew himself up outside the parliament building. The other fighters then forced their way into the building and opened fire. All have reportedly been killed.

Today's attack, timed to the minute to coincide with parliament members' arrival for the day's session, appears to have been as meticulously and professionally planned as the Tsentoroi raid. "Chechenews" in September posted a video clip of Eastern Front commander Aslambek Vadalov together with the Arab commander Mukhannad and other fighters standing by a maquette of the village and indicating which fighters should target which building from which angle.**

This morning's attack also raises the question of possible connivance on the part of the pro-Kadyrov police and security forces: how otherwise could the attackers have managed to drive through numerous police checks and right up to the parliament building?

Khuseyn Gakayev and Mukhannad, together with veteran fellow commanders Aslambek Vadalov and Tarkhan Gaziyev, withdrew their oath of allegiance to North Caucasus insurgency commander Doku Umarov in mid-August. They have since criticized his authoritarian leadership style and, implicitly, his unilateral decision in October 2007 to jettison the cause of Chechen independence and proclaim a Caucasus Emirate.

Umarov responded in video footage last week in which he excoriated the breakaway emirs. The website, which functions as his press service, has reported this morning's attack. But it did not claim responsibility, identifying the attackers simply as "a group of militants."

It is not clear how many Chechen fighters sided with the "moderate" faction against Umarov. Over 20 unit commanders have been identified by name as having pledged allegiance to the Gakayev/Vadalov/Gaziyev grouping at a meeting in mid-August. Video footage of their tent camp suggested that at least that number of fighters were present. Assuming that each individual fighting unit numbers between six and eight men, their total strength would be in the region of 120-160.

In video footage recorded last month, Gakayev, Vadalov and Gaziyev jointly appealed for the support of all Chechens, both in Chechnya and abroad, who unequivocally espouse their vision of a free Chechnya under Islamic law.

* CLARIFICATION: This sentence has been amended to specify, among other things, that Khuseyn Gakayev was a deputy commander of the Eastern Front.

** CORRECTION: The original version of this story misidentified the man in the video in question as Khuseyn Gakayev. It was in fact Aslambek Vadalov.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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