Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Killings on the Increase
Kalaus, a village an hour's drive from the Chechen capital Grozny, is a small community consisting of a few dozen houses surrounded by hills and oil rigs.
Along with other Chechen communities in the north of the republic, Kalaus was once considered safe and quiet - but not anymore.
At around 3am on May 31, a group of unidentified people in masks and army fatigues broke into a house, killing one local and kidnapping two others. The assailants were fully armed and drove three UAZ army jeeps without license plates.
One resident told IWPR that the kidnappers had targeted a private home at the edge of the village, beating up and dragging off two young men, Aslan Rasuyev and Jalil Mutsuyev. Jalil's brother Rezvan, who tried to resist, was shot and killed.
The local police told the family the kidnapping had been perpetrated by "unidentified criminals", and assured them all necessary steps were being taken to find and arrest those responsible.
But Kalaus villagers allege that the only possible culprits for the murder and abductions are members of the Russian security services. "Who else can drive three cars after curfew, pass dozens of checkpoints, and escape with two hostages?" asked Kureish, a relative of one of the kidnapped men.
"Obviously, these people had nothing to fear as they were acting on behalf of the authorities. We call them 'death squads'. They are not accountable to anyone, and do whatever they want."
Chechens say they have seen a noticeable upsurge in violence since the May 9 assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov threw Chechnya into a new era of uncertainty. In particular, they say that the Russian federal forces - and deadly units of masked men they call "death squads" -- have become active once again.
"The Russian security services have used the killing of Kadyrov as an excuse to step up the terror against us," Grozny resident Makka Hamidova told IWPR.
"Whatever Russian and local officials say, things have become much worse here since May 9 - it's a veritable witch hunt. Russian security services are conducting 'clean-up operations' in Grozny and further south almost daily. Whatever you said about Kadyrov, he succeeded in reining in Russian violence. Now that he's gone they are out of control. Every day you hear about murders and people being taken away.
"A distant relative of mine works for the local branch of the Russian federal security service. He is a lieutenant colonel, and holds a pretty high post. He told me that the Russian military and security agents have stopped listening to him since Kadyrov's death. Chechens serving in Chechnya's security agencies have been downgraded to a secondary role. The Russians are fully in charge."
So-called "clean-up" operations in which Russian troops made brutal raids on a whole community, detaining young men and terrorising the locals, had all but stopped under Kadyrov. But on June 8 there were reports of just such an operation by federal forces in the village of Roshni-Chu, a traditional rebel centre.
A source within the Chechen police force insisted to IWPR that everything was indeed under control and insisted that "civilians have nothing to fear if they do not engage in illegal activity".
Lyoma Magomadov, a district police officer in Grozny, said, "There is no 'emergency'. Security personnel are simply responding to guerrilla activity, which generally intensifies in summer.
"We target our raids accurately to hit guerrillas and religious fanatics, who have carried out terror attacks, murders, and kidnappings. I don't think this has anything to do with the killing of Kadyrov. It is just business as usual, routine work that will continue until all guerrillas are annihilated."
The Chechen security services, who grew in power under Kadyrov, are still flexing their muscles. On June 7, Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the former president and deputy prime minister in the local Chechen government, warned on local television that if rebel fighters did not lay down their weapons they would be destroyed within three days.
However, rebel forces have stepped up resistance in recent weeks. On June 4 and 5, several Russian servicemen were killed and injured when mines went off in two Grozny districts. Russian military promptly retaliated with a series of "clean-up" raids and other "targeted" operations.
A series of rebel attacks has also targeted local pro-Moscow Chechen police officials. Several have been killed in recent weeks.
"Religious radicals are rearing their heads across the republic," Sergei Moskalenko of the Russian commander's office in Grozny, told IWPR.
"They recruit young people for their cells that target officials, Russian soldiers and Chechen policemen. We are fighting back, but the moment you arrest or kill a militant, they kick up a big row. People stage rallies, and all sorts of non-governmental organisations cry out about human rights violations. There are forces working to present what's going on in Chechnya in a negative light only."
The officer was probably referring to a mass protest outside the Chechen government headquarters in downtown Grozny on June 2, when some 200 women from across Chechnya demanded information about missing relatives allegedly kidnapped by Russian soldiers. The protesters also demanded an appointment with Council of Europe rapporteurs Rudolf Bindig and Andreas Gross.
The rally was brutally broken up by soldiers and Chechen police, and several women were injured and taken to hospital. Chechen security council secretary Rudnik Dudayev, who had reportedly given the order to suppress the rally, described the protesters as "mothers of criminals".
"So far, we have information about 19 deaths in Chechnya in May alone - six civilians, three armed guerrillas, two government officials, and one security officer. However, seven other bodies are yet to be identified, so this information is tentative and incomplete," said Shakhman Akbulatov, a human rights monitor from the Memorial organisation.
"During the same period, 25 Chechens were kidnapped. The families of three paid a ransom, but the other 22 are still missing. These figures prove that innocent civilians suffer the most at the hands of Russian military in Chechnya.
"The night raids, arbitrary executions and kidnappings that have become customary in the past five years have to stop otherwise this vicious circle of violence will continue, and the conveyor belt of death in Chechnya will never stop."
Umalt Dudayev is the pseudonym of a Chechen journalist and frequent IWPR contributor.
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