That in turn raises the question of the affiliation of the four militants -- identified as Aydemir Alakayev, Zurab Tumenov, Marat Kivalov, and Musa Ayvazov -- who ambushed a police convoy in Karachayevo-Cherkessia on February 4, killing three police and freeing detainee Ruslan Suleymanov, one of their comrades in arms.
According to Russian security officials, it was those five fighters who were killed on February 15 in a gunfight in Belomechetinskaya, on the border between Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai. Three special-forces troops were also killed, and three more wounded.
It is still unclear whether a Mi-28 (Night Hunter) military helicopter that crash-landed during that fighting was hit by a missile, as the Caucasus Emirate's main website, kavkazcenter.com, hypothesized. To date, only fighters in Chechnya and Daghestan have succeeded in downing military helicopters.
Also unclear is whether the five dead militants were an isolated group, or part of a larger jamaat, and whether that jamaat has, like Jappuyev's, pledged loyalty to Doku Umarov as head of the so-called Caucasus Emirate.
The Karachayevo-Cherkessia jamaat suffered serious losses in 2006-07, and there have been very few reports since then of any militant activity in the republic. The five dead fighters may have been members of the republic's over 13,000-strong Nogai minority, for whom an autonomous district was established on the basis of a local referendum in 2006. That autonomous district is only a few kilometers away from Belomechetinskaya.