Kabardino-Balkaria Fears Spread of Terror

Concern grows that republic will be targeted by Islamic extremists while local Muslims say they are subject to groundless persecution.

Kabardino-Balkaria Fears Spread of Terror

Concern grows that republic will be targeted by Islamic extremists while local Muslims say they are subject to groundless persecution.

Wednesday, 29 September, 2004

Marianna Kalmykova, a journalist and mother in Nalchik, has kept her son away from the town’s School No. 2 for several days now.


“I’m not the only one – everybody is waiting for a terrorist attack,” she said. “Staff at the school are making all sorts of excuses in order to avoid officially admitting that there are no classes because of low attendance.”


Ordinary people in Kabardino-Balkaria are afraid their republic, which has seen growing turbulence over the last few months, will be targeted by Islamic militants.


All last week, classes in kindergartens, schools and colleges have been disrupted, as parents kept their children at home.


Public agitation has been intense ever since an article appeared on the popular internet site Kavkazweb on September 17, entitled “End of the World: How Chechen separatists are planning to destroy Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia”.


The anonymous article sketched out a scenario under which Chechen warrior Shamil Basayev, who has claimed responsibility for the Beslan attack, would be able to do the same thing, this time against Nalchik’s School No. 2 and how this would lead to large-scale inter-ethnic fighting in the North Caucasus with the loss of tens of thousands of lives.


Even before the seizure of the school in Beslan, Kabardino-Balkaria had been suffering from violence that went largely unreported. On September 1, the very day the Beslan school was seized, a shootout took place in the middle of the afternoon in the centre of Nalchik. Dagir Khubiev, who came from Karachai-Cherkassia, was killed in an exchange of fire with security forces.


Khubiev was driving a taxi, and when told to pull over responded by shouting “Allah akbar!” and started shooting with a home-made pistol.


Khubiev was reported to be an Islamist radical being hunted by the authorities. Around the same time, the allegation was made that a Karachai, named Nikolai Kipkeev, had been killed while organising the explosion by a suicide bomber outside a Moscow metro station on August 31. Both men were alleged to be linked to an extremist group in Karachai-Cherkessia, known as “Jamaat Number 3”.


Since the Beslan tragedy, the interior ministry in Kabardino-Balkaria has offered a reward for information about members of another group known as Yarmuk whose members come from the village of Kendelen. Their leader is a 30-year-old man named Muslim Atayev and known as Seifullah.


Beslan Mukhozhev, who heads a department tackling religious extremism within the local police force, announced on September 21, “Yarmuk presents a real threat to the security of the people of the republic. Members of this jamaat are experienced fighters who have undergone special technical and psychological preparation in order to carry out subversive activities.”


At the end of August, a battle took place 15 kilometres outside Nalchik near the village of Chegem that lasted for more than eight hours. As many as 400 members of the security forces, using armoured vehicles and two helicopters, fought a group of just eight fighters, but the latter managed to escape from the corn field where they had been surrounded. This was a repetition of what happened in the village of Baksan in August 2003, when a group, believed to have been led by Basayev himself, escaped a siege and two soldiers were killed. (See CRS 199, “Kabardino-Balkaria Crackdown on Islamists” By Valery Khatazhukov)


This time there were losses on the other side, with two fighters killed. Two members of the security forces also died and four were wounded.


On the same day in an eastern suburb of Nalchik, a gunman in a white car opened fire when directed to pull over by the security forces. During the pursuit, the four passengers abandoned the car when its tyres were shot out and ran off into the forest. The minister of internal affairs, Khachim Shogenov, reported that ten kilogrammes of TNT, ready for use, and a large amount of weapons and ammunition, was discovered in the car.


A week later, the authorities announced that they suspected Seifullah, the leader of Yarmuk, of being behind the Chegem battle. This was after an aggressive statement was published by Yarmuk on the radical Islamist website Kavkaz Centre, which boasted that “we bring to the notice of all, that today, by the mercy of Allah, the Kabardino-Balkarian military jamaat Yarmuk has been established. Units of the jamaat Yarmuk are stationed on the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria and are proceeding to carry out the military tasks entrusted to them in accordance with the demands of jihad”.


Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria are now broadly split into two groups. The older generation continues on the whole to trust the Spiritual Board of Muslims, which is close to the authorities. The younger generation is increasingly turning to the less obedient unofficial Emir of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria Mussa Mukhozhev who heads 40 Islamic communities across the republic, which number more than 10,000 followers.


The republic’s president Valery Kokov set up four commissions with orders to hold meetings in every town and village in Kabardino-Balkaria. In the meetings, relatives of wahhabi radicals were told to encourage their young people to shave off their beards, stop visiting the mosques and pray only at home. Otherwise, the authorities warned, serious measures would be taken against them.


Only one mosque, the central one in Nalchik, is now open in the republic after several were closed down last year.


Kokov has said the authorities have a list of 400 extremist suspects who are under 24-hour observation and against whom the security forces are prepared to use any measure in order to restrict them.


But there are a few people who doubt the accuracy of these official lists. Ruslan Nakhushev, the director of the non-governmental Institute of Islamic Research in Kabardino-Balkaria, says he saw the official list and that – to his great surprise - he himself was on it in second position.


“I don’t go to the mosque, do not fast, do not practice daily prayers,” Nakhushev said. “I don’t observe even one of the instructions of Islam so you couldn’t really call me a Muslim. Nevertheless, I’m on this list, as a radical Islamist. For me it is absolutely clear, that the people on this list have been ‘registered’ according to the principles of the NKVD [Stalinist secret police]. They are people local officialdom does not like and therefore enemies of the people.”


The first name on the list, Mukozhev, also does not consider himself a wahhabi. “When the authorities are unable to fight the real danger, they create the appearance of a fight just so they can account for themselves to the central authorities. Last year, Basaev gave them the slip, and now they are shifting their fury onto us, ordinary Muslims,” he said.


Mukhozhev said that, as a result of a crackdown, ordinary people had been subject to arbitrary arrest and beatings and in the village of Dugulubguei young men had had crosses shaved into their scalp.


“Even though not one of the accusations against our community has been proven, we have no access to justice,” Mukhozhev said. “The Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria are completely deprived of their constitutional rights and civil liberties. It is very difficult for us to keep our young people from taking retaliation. You can’t call the policies of the authorities reasonable, they are more like a provocation.”


Fatima Tlisova is an independent journalist based in Kabardino-Balkaria.


Support our journalists