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Surge In North Caucasus Violence Reflects Diversification Of Resistance Tactics

The suicide bombing in Ingushetia demonstrates yet again how Moscow's failure to take decisive action to curtail spiraling violence in that republic two years ago contributed to the demoralization and weakening of the republic's police.
The attacks on police in Daghestan on August 13, and Ingushetia on August 17 serve to highlight the extent to which resistance jamaats in different North Caucasus republics adapt and modify their tactics in light of local conditions and constraints, and their own growing numerical strength.

The dual attack on a police post and a nearby sauna-cum-bordello in Buynaksk, in which four police officers and seven prostitutes were killed, may herald a further diversification of tactics on the part of Daghestan's Shariat jamaat. Until now, that group has avoided killing civilians, while warning several times in recent years that it will act to stamp out vice and depravity.

A self-styled "group of citizens of Makhachkala" posted a similar statement on August 5 on the resistance website warning owners of such dubious establishments to close them immediately or risk attack by the resistance.

Yesterday's suicide bombing in Ingushetia demonstrates yet again how Moscow's failure to take decisive action to curtail spiraling violence in that republic two years ago contributed to the demoralization and weakening of the republic's police.

Over the past five to 10 years, local police have increasingly become the focus of resistance attacks across the North Caucasus, from Kabardino-Balkaria to Daghestan. Not only are they widely perceived as the instrument and support base of corrupt and despised republican leaderships; indiscriminate police brutality against law-abiding civilians is one of the primary factors that alienates young men to the point that they "head for the forest" to join the resistance ranks.

In Chechnya too, it is the pro-Moscow police force that is the primary target of militant attacks. But in Chechnya, the preferred tactic is to ambush police and security personnel on remote roads in the hilly and forested south.

In Daghestan, by contrast, most attacks on police take place in urban areas, primarily the cities of Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, but increasingly over the past 18 months also in the southern coastal town of Derbent.

In Ingushetia, the majority of such attacks are confined to the environs of Nazran and Magas in the extreme northwest of the republic. In most such cases, militants open fire on police vehicles or police patrol posts from a passing car.

Ingushetia Bombing

The August 17 attack on the Nazran municipal police department was an exception to that rule. A suicide bomber drove a car into the courtyard of the building and detonated 200 kilograms of explosive, killing 21 people and injuring up to 138 others, including 10 children. It was the single most deadly attack in Ingushetia since the multiple raids in June 2004 on police and security facilities.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev blamed Ingushetian Interior Minister Ruslan Meyriyev for failing to avert the August 17 bombing, noting that the vehicle used in the attack had been reported stolen two days earlier. The website quoted Deputy Interior Minister Ziyaudin Daurbekov as saying that police anticipated that the car had been stolen for precisely that purpose.

Meyriyev was appointed interior minister last fall, shortly after Medvedev selected career military-intelligence officer Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to succeed Murat Zyazikov as Ingushetian president.

At that juncture, the Ingushetian police force was under-strength and badly demoralized following a spate of resistance attacks that killed up to 50 of its men over the previous 18 months. Between early July and early August 2008, more than 1,300 police officers reportedly resigned to protest the ministry's refusal to pay them overtime and other special allowances.

According to a recent article in "Vremya novostei," Meyriyev proved unable to cope with the multiple challenges he faced, and indeed spent most of his time at the Russian military base in neighboring Chechnya.

Ingushetian Prime Minister Rashid Gaysanov admitted on August 17 that "our police are weak, they cannot defend themselves, let alone the population of the republic." Statistics bear him out: there were 72 resistance attacks on police and military personnel during the first six months of this year, in which 25 police officers were killed and 57 injured.

In a belated attempt to render the police force more effective, Gaysanov reached agreement during talks with Medvedev and with Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev in late July (while he was still acting president in place of Yevkurov) that Interior Ministry personnel should be increased by 50 percent.

Yesterday's car bombing was the fourth suicide attack since North Caucasus resistance leader Doku Umarov announced in late April that the Riyad-us Salihiin (Gardens of the Righteous) suicide battalion formed in the early 2000s by radical field commander Shamil Basayev has been reconstituted. Umarov warned in that context that 2009 would be "a year of offensives."

A spokesman for Riyad-us Salihiin subsequently told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that it has a pool of up to 20 fighters trained and ready to carry out suicide attacks.

Ten people were killed in two separate suicide bombings in Grozny on May 15 and July 26. And on June 23, Ingushetian President Yevkurov narrowly escaped death when a suicide bomber rammed his motorcade. Riyad-us Salihiin claimed responsibility for the attack on Yevkurov, and for the July suicide bombing at a Grozny theater.

"Classic" resistance operations in southern Chechnya are likely to wind down in the late fall, when the absence of tree cover makes it riskier and more difficult for militants to move from one base to another undetected. The same holds true for resistance attacks on police in Ingushetia, which in both 2007 and 2008 reached a peak in the summer months.

Car bombers, by contrast, face no such seasonal constraints: one of the most spectacular such attacks in recent years, on the government building in Grozny, took place in late December 2002.

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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