Meanwhile, lawyers for the accused continue to protest the recent legislative amendments that deny persons accused on charges related to "terrorism" the right to a jury trial.
According to the official account of what happened, the October 2005 attacks were perpetrated by between 100-200 young Muslim militants alienated by systematic brutal police harassment of nonviolent but devout Muslims. Although the attacks were reportedly planned by veteran Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev, many of the young men in question had received only minimal military training. Basayev disapproved of the plan that was presented to him by Astemirov and others and told them they weren't ready to fight. The local jamaat decided to go ahead anyway.
In fighting that lasted only a few hours, they failed in their imputed bid to take control of six Interior Ministry posts and numerous other premises targeted, including the city airport and two stores that sold weapons. According to the official account, a total of 35 police and security personnel, and 14 civilian residents of the city, were killed in the fighting. On October 14, the number of attackers killed was given as 72; 48 hours later the figure was revised to 95.
But the families of at least some of the dead young men dispute the official version, "Kommersant" reported on March 31, quoting their lawyer, Larisa Dorogova. They say the number of attackers was much lower -- around 40 -- and that they sought simply to "avenge themselves on the police," rather than to take control of all police and Federal Security Service (FSB) facilities in the city. In addition, the families of at least some of the dead young men identified by police as active participants in the attacks insist that they were either innocent victims of crossfire, or they were detained by police after the fighting was over, and their families were later informed of their death, allegedly during the fighting.
The bodies of the 95 identified as active participants in the fighting were cremated secretly in June 2006. Their families, who had repeatedly appealed to KBR President Arsen Kanokov to release the bodies for burial, were informed of the cremation only one year later.
The preliminary hearings in the trial began in October 2007 in a specially built courthouse in Nalchik. Then in May 2008, the KBR Supreme Court embarked on the process of selecting jury members. Hundreds of potential jurors were summoned over a period of many months, almost all of whom requested to be exempted. Despite protests from the Public Chamber, in December 2008 both chambers of the Russian parliament approved a bill proposed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to abolish jury trials in cases involving terrorism or violent crime.
The indictment, which the prosecution began reading out on April 14, not only reaffirms the authorities' official version of what happened, but elaborates on it in the light of subsequent developments.
It claims that the attackers sought to seize control of the entire city of Nalchik as a preliminary to establishing an Islamic state that encompassed the entire North Caucasus, an objective proclaimed only in late 2007 by Chechen resistance commander Doku Umarov.
The indictment also overstates the strength of the combined North Caucasus resistance (the various units fighting in Chechnya, Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria), in the period prior to the Nalchik attacks, claiming that "between late 1999 and 2005 the leaders of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic Ichkeria A. Maskhadov, and Sh. Basayev, the Arab mercenaries Abu Al-Walid and Abu-Dzeit, and others created on the territory of the North Caucasus republics a large organized criminal association with the aim of resisting federal forces, separating the North Caucasus from the rest of the Russian Federation and creating a single Islamic state on its territory."
The indictment further exaggerates the role in that alleged process of Anzor Astemirov (aka Seyfullakh), identifying him as commander of the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat months before he assumed that post in the summer of 2005. That jamaat was the successor to the Yarmuk jamaat, most of whose members were killed in an operation by security forces in January 2005. A recent denunciation of Astemirov posted on chechenpress.info, the website of the moderate Chechen Republic Ichkeria resistance in exile that adamantly rejects the idea of a North Caucasus Islamic state as opposed to an independent Chechnya, alleged both that Astemirov was the mastermind behind the plans for a North Caucasus Islamic state, and that he had been suborned in April 2001 by the FSB.
Astemirov continues to command the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat, which is accused of the shooting in November 2007 of a group of nine Russian hunters. The jamaat issued a press release on April 14 warning that "a war is under way in our land between Muslims and nonbelievers," and that civilians should refrain from entering forest areas as "many roads and paths are mined."