Confusion has arisen after security authorities in Russia's North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria claimed that a man shot dead by police in the capital had been recruiting militants to fight in Syria.
Russia's National Counterterrorism Committee (NAK) initially told news agencies that the man who had been killed in Nalchik was Zalim Shebzukhov, 29, a wanted member of the Caucasus Emirate militant group who was plotting to carry out terror attacks during public gatherings for the May 1 Labor Day celebrations. The militant was also allegedly recruiting fighters and sending them to Syria, NAK said.
However, NAK quickly changed its story after an anonymous law enforcement source told the Caucasian Knot news outlet on April 16 that the man who was killed was actually Zaur Prokopchuk, a Nalchik resident who was wanted by police and who was shot alongside a woman thought to be his wife.
NAK issued a correction, this time telling reporters that security agents had identified the dead man as Prokopchuk with the help of his relatives and those of Shebzukhov.
According to Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Prokopchuk had been a known accomplice of Shebzukhov and had "taken an active part in the organization and implementation of all the offenses referred to in NAK's initial message."
According to NAK, Prokopchuk was also a high-value target -- the "head of the central sector of the bandit underground," a term used by Russian security authorities to refer to militant groups, usually the Caucasus Emirate.
Interfax said that Shebzukhov was an accomplice of Prokopchuk.
NAK initially said that the man who had been shot dead had barricaded himself into an apartment in a five-story building in the center of Nalchik. Security forces had carried out a counterterrorism operation against him because he posed a threat.
NAK did not comment on the whereabouts of Shebzukhov, who is presumably still at large.
Kabardino-Balkarians In Syria
While the identity of the man shot dead by Russian security authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria may be in question, what is certain is that individuals from Kabardino-Balkaria are being recruited to fight in Syria, by at least two factions.
The two biggest of these factions are the Islamic State (IS) group and the Chechen-led group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA).
If Prokopchuk (or Shebzukhov) had been a member of the Caucasus Emirate and if he was recruiting militants to fight in Syria, as NAK alleges, then it is likely he would have been sending them to fight with JMA, which considers itself to be an affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate in Syria and its leader, Salakhuddin al-Shishani, has sworn an oath of allegiance to Caucasus Emirate leader Aliaskhab Kebekov.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said in February that around 80 people from the republic were thought to be fighting alongside militant groups in Syria. Of those, a total of nine individuals have died in the fighting, while a further 12 people have returned home to Kabardino-Balkaria.
Security forces in the republic appear to be cracking down on militants they say are involved with recruitment to Syria, as well as those suspected of involvement with the Caucasus Emirate.
In addition to the April 16 killing of Shebzukhov, law enforcement agents in the republic claimed last week to have foiled a "recruitment channel" that had been sending female militants to Syria. http://www.rferl.org/content/kabardino-balkaria-police-recrutiment-female-militants-syria/26949070.html The reports did not say to which group in Syria the women were allegedly being recruited.
Moscow Concern About Syria 'Blowback'
The report that an alleged militant suspected of recruiting Russian citizens to fight in Syria had been killed in Nalchik came as Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that Moscow was concerned about "blowback" from Russian nationals returning home after fighting in Syria.
Putin made his comments during his marathon annual "direct line" conversation with the Russian public on April 16.
While Putin said that IS specifically did not pose a direct threat to Russia, he said "blowback" from returnees was a worry.
"It is really a concern to us --that our citizens are there [fighting alongside militants]. They undergo training there and could come to be on our soil. Citizens of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] are getting trained there, fighting and could end up here, as they have [Russian] passports," Putin said.
Putin said that the security services were actively monitoring the issue.
"Yes, we understand this and we are working accordingly. I cannot say that we know all of [the Russian militants in Syria] by name, but we know roughly where they fight, where they train. Some them we already do know by name. The intelligence services are working on this very actively in collaboration with colleagues from other CIS countries," Putin said.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk