The Chechen Interior Ministry announced on October 18 the killing in Grozny of Aslan Aliskhanov, 33, who was identified as the "organizer" of a suicide bombing perpetrated 13 days earlier by a young Chechen man identified as Apti Mudarov. But the details divulged, first by the Chechen police and the following day by representatives of the federal Investigative Committee, of how he was killed are not entirely convincing.
According to the Chechen Interior Ministry, Aliskhanov was shot while resisting arrest. He was armed with a gun and was wearing a suicide belt packed with explosives. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin for his part said that joint measures by the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service had established that Aliskhanov had planned to perpetrate on October 4 a suicide bombing similar to that carried out by Mudarov.
Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin explained that Aliskhanov had asked friends in Grozny at whose home he was staying to summon the police, with the intention of blowing up himself together with the police when they arrived. Aliskhanov's friends refused, however, whereupon, according to Bastrykin, Aliskhanov detonated an explosive device that damaged their home.
Bastrykin did not divulge any details of the relationship or cooperation between Aliskhanov and Mudarov. Neither have Chechen police explained why they are convinced beyond all shadow of doubt that it was Aliskhanov who induced Mudarov to undertake the suicide bombing.
Bastrykin's account is questionable for at least two reasons. First, if Aliskhanov had in his possession a suicide belt stuffed with explosives, the weapon of choice of insurgency suicide bombers, why did Mudarov use a homemade bomb based on a mortar shell?
And second, why did Aliskhanov remain in Grozny after the October 5 suicide bombing and thereby risk discovery and arrest, especially given that Chechen law enforcement officers had announced on October 16 that they had identified him as Mudarov's accomplice and launched a large-scale search for him, posting photographs of him publicly in the district of Grozny where he was subsequently spotted and killed?
Two other aspects of the search for, and killing of, Aliskhanov are puzzling. First, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who routinely seizes on the killing of any young man implicated in contacts with the Islamic insurgency in order to play up his and his minions' zeal in countering it, has failed to comment on it.
And second, neither the Chechen authorities nor the federal Investigative Committee have made any mention of the putative connection between the October 5 bombing and the Syria-based Islamist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Jamwa), many of whose members are reportedly from Chechnya or elsewhere in the North Caucasus. "The Moscow Times" reportedly claimed, in an article that is no longer accessible, that a comment on the bombing was posted on an account on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte.
The website Caucasus Knot in turn reported that Jamwa had actually taken responsibility for the Grozny bombing in a post to a VKontakte account. At the same time, it quoted two Russian experts, Aleksei Malashenko and Akhmet Yarlykapov, as casting doubts on the authenticity of that claim, while blogger Joanna Paraszczuk affirmed categorically that Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar did not claim responsibility on Vkontakte for the Grozny bombing. (Again, the question arises: If Jamwa was responsible, why was Mudarov not provided with a more sophisticated bomb?)
Meanwhile, the Chechen police are hunting for a third man, named as Magomed Zaurbekov, who reportedly had ties to Aliskhanov. There has been no further word on the fate of Mudarov's mother, uncle, and sister, who have been taken into custody.
-- Liz Fuller