The Chechen Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for Chechnya have posted rewards of up to 5 million rubles (approximately $80,000) for information leading to the capture of two North Caucasus militant leaders, neither of whom has shown any sign of life for at least a year.
The two men are Chechen Aslan Byutukayev, 42, and Rustam Aselderov, 35, a Dargin.
Byutukayev (aka Emir Khamzat) emerged as second in command to self-styled "Caucasus Emirate" head Doku Umarov in late 2010 and by his own admission mentored the young Ingush who perpetrated the suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport in January 2011 in which 37 people were killed and a further 180 injured. Chechen fighters who participated in the December 2014 attack on Grozny were quoted as saying Byutukayev masterminded that attack.
In June 2015, Byutukayev was reported to have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Aselderov (nom de guerre Abu-Mukhammad al-Kadari) was born in Kalmykia but grew up in Daghestan in Karamakhi, a village notorious as a hotbed of militant Islam. He reportedly joined the insurgency after being tried and acquitted in 2007 on a charge of illegal possession of weapons. Umarov named him in August 2012 as head of the insurgency wing in Daghestan.
Two years later, in December 2014, Aselderov retracted his oath of allegiance to Umarov's successor as Caucasus Emirate head, the Avar theologian Aliaskhab Kebekov, and became one of the first North Caucasus insurgency commanders to swear loyalty to IS. In the summer of 2015, it was reported that Baghdadi had named Aselderov to head the IS wing in the Caucasus.
The more modest sum of 3 million rubles was offered by the Chechen Interior Ministry and FSB for the capture of any one of seven other fighters, four of them Chechens, two from Daghestan, and one Ingush.
The best-known is veteran Chechen fighter Makhran Saidov (aka Emir Yakub), one of three mid-level commanders who led the attacks in late August 2010 on Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's home village of Khosi-Yurt. At that time, Kadyrov offered a reward of $10 million for the death or capture of the organizers of that attack.
The other three Chechens, about whom little is known, are Usam Yakubov, Sharip Soldayev, and Valid Motsayev. Yakubov, together with Saidov, was among 12 Chechen fighters who Kadyrov said in July had taken refuge in Turkey and whose extradition he demanded.
Also on that list was veteran Chechen commander Aslambek Vadalov, the mastermind behind the August 2010 attack on Khosi-Yurt and the suicide attack two months later on the Chechen parliament. The fact that Vadalov does not figure among the eight fighters for whom the most recent rewards are offered suggests that he may indeed be in Turkey. Alternatively, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service suggests that he may have been killed, but his death has not been formally announced either by his comrades in arms or by the Russian security services.
The Daghestanis are Ibragim Amirov, identified as a relative of Kebekov, and a suspect in the killing in August of Ubaydula Magomedov, a judge in Daghestan's southwestern Shamil district; and Gadzhi Mirzayev; the Ingush is Bekkhan Soltukayev, a suspect in the shooting three years ago of Republic of Ingushetia Security Council Secretary Akhmed Kotiyev.
Less Money, Wider Scope
Two points with regard to the announcement of the rewards are worthy of note. The first is that the sums offered are paltry in comparison with analogous incentives offered a decade ago. In the wake of the Beslan hostage-taking in September 2004, the Russian government offered $10 million for the death or capture of then-Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov and renegade field commander Shamil Basayev. (Basayev planned but did not participate in that operation, and later said he never believed for one moment that Russian President Vladimir Putin would sacrifice the lives of so many innocent civilians, many of them children, rather than agree to the Chechens' demand for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya.)
The second is the fact that the Chechen "force" agencies are offering incentives for the capture of fighters based outside Chechnya, some of whom are not ethnic Chechens. That disregard for formal administrative boundaries reflects Kadyrov's unofficial status as ruler over the entire North Caucasus.
In early April, RIA Novosti quoted Kadyrov as saying as there were no militants left in Chechnya. The Russian daily Kommersant on October 28 similarly quoted an unnamed security official as saying that "there are practically no well-known field commanders left in Chechnya," as some have been killed (including Vadalov?) and others are on the run.
Kadyrov also claimed that the eight fighters killed in a shoot-out with security forces on October 8 in Gudermes district east of Grozny had entered Chechnya from Daghestan. (Only one of the eight has been identified; to judge by his name, Ali Demilkhanov, he was a Chechen.)
That raises the question whether Byutukayev and his men are currently operating out of Daghestan, given that the Chechen authorities have in recent years brought under their control swaths of the southern mountains where the resistance maintained a network of bases from 2000-12.
Republic of Daghestan Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Dzhafarov told TASS last month that there were only a few scattered groups of fighters in Daghestan, totaling no more than 30-40 men, without a common commander. This suggests that Byutukayev and his fighters are based in the northwestern district of Khasavyurt that borders on Chechnya, while Aselderov maintains a base much further south. Most shoot-outs in recent month between militants and security forces have taken place in and around the Caspian town of Derbent and in the Tabasaran, Magerramkent, and Suleyman Stalsky districts to the south, close to the border with Azerbaijan.