Yesterday’s report in Moscow News reveals some new details of Thursday’s Islamic terror attack in Nalchik, the North Caucasus capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic.
|The militants launched the first attack at 9 am. City residents claim to have seen not only the notorious Anzor Astemirov, but also Shamil Basayev. They say that he coordinated the militants’ actions. A part of them, probably led by Basayev, entered the city. The group was international: there were Chechens, Ingushs, Tatars and Arabs. Some people say they have saw a Negro as well. All the other militants were locals.|
|Several groups of militants carried out simultaneous attacks on the buildings of the regional Interior Ministry, the local FSB, the Anti-Terrorism Center, three city police stations, the republic’s OMON (special purpose police force) and a regiment of a mobile police force. Besides that, the militants opened fire at a company of the 135th motorized-rifle regiment and the Nalchik frontier guards situated near the local airport.|
|The militants drove in cars, threw explosives or grenades through the windows of buildings, fired grenade launchers and automatic weapons. The police and the military returned fire. Constant bursts of sub-machine gun fire and the blasts of grenades were heard for half an hour in the city center and the districts of Gorny and Iskozh.|
At various times during the day’s confusing events, terrorist mastermind Shamil Basayev was reported to have been killed, and to have escaped death, and even not to have been there at all.
What seems significant is that the mujahideen appear to have been forced into battle earlier than they had planned:
|The policemen later recounted that before the Nalchik attack, there was a special police search operation early on Thursday morning to arrest a group of Wahhabis near the village of Belaya Rechka, outside the Kabardino-Balkarian capital. The police found the militants in a forest but the insurgents opened intense bursts of gunfire. Three militants were shot, one policeman was injured. After that, the military blockaded the rebels in the forest. There were a few warlords in the group who managed to inform their accomplices of the incident, and the latter decided to set out immediately, all the more so because they had been prepared for it long before. The law enforcement agencies had received a lot of information recently suggesting that militants from the local jamaat led by Anzor Astemirot — wanted for an attack on the State Drug Control office — were masterminding a major raid on the republic’s military and police forces and other terrorist acts. The latter was given credence by the fact that a cache with half a ton of explosives was found by police in Nalchik last Sunday.|
So the terrorists were caught relatively unprepared and forced into precipitate action; they activated their attack plans under circumstances that were less than favorable to them. This would explain the lopsided casualty rate: 60 terrorists killed, versus 24 police and civilians. Of course, these figures are in the process of being revised, and there have been later reports suggesting a death toll of more than 100. In addition, as the article says,
|Thus, very few of the militants escaped, and the losses of the militants who launched a sudden attack are almost five times greater than those of the military and the police. Yet, sources of Kommersant in the republic’s law enforcement agencies suppose that these figures will change dramatically. “Civilians, the accidental victims of the shoot-out, could have got onto the list of the militants.”|
Still, in the end, it seems to be a substantial setback for Basayev’s group. To take three times as many casualties as does the enemy — when one’s group is but a tiny fraction of the general population of the area — has got to be a devastating blow.
The Russian authorities were not entirely unprepared for such an attack; they had been watching the “Caucasus Front” and preparing for a confrontation.
|It was as early as this July that the Russian Interior Ministry pointed out the fact that perhaps the largest Wahhabi jamaat in the North Caucasus had expanded its activities to Nalchik. The officials also predicted that terrorist attacks by militants would take place. It was also at that time that thousands of policemen and interior forces troops were gathered to the most restive North Caucasus republics, Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagestan and Ingushetia. The local military and police has been getting ready for a war ever since, which, in fact, averted another attack like the one in Nazran last year.|
|Jamaats (Islamic communities) began to emerge in the KCR and KBR in 1996 as a reaction to the opening of the former Soviet Republics to the outside world of Islam. With the established structures of “official Islam” held in distrust, a younger generation began to seek connections with “true Islam”, which to many meant adoption of Salafist beliefs current in the Arabian heartland of the faith but foreign to the North Caucasus. Some jamaats are entirely peaceful, while others have felt the lure of the message of jihad and adopted armed revolt. The Yarmuk Jamaat is of the latter type, having been formed in 2002 from Balkar followers of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev in the Pankisi Gorge.|
|Other young Muslims have turned to the leadership of the self-described Emir of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria, Musa Mukhozhev. Mukhozhev’s Salafist Islam has experienced a sudden growth in popularity as many young people abandon the region’s traditional Sufi beliefs. Russia’s new Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev (himself a Tatar Muslim) has disparaged the republic as a breeding-ground for foreign-supported “Wahhabism”. The FSB (former KGB) directorate for the KBR alleges U.S., Turkish, and Middle Eastern involvement in intelligence and sabotage activities in the republic.|
These “communities” bring to mind other Jamaats closer to home, including the one on our doorstep in Red House, Virginia. The people in Nalchik, residents of a small provincial town, were not thinking of themselves as front line soldiers in a war. They were going about their business, driving to work, taking their children to school, when the terrorists struck:
|At the same time, another militant group struck on the building of the first department of the Interior Ministry. Azamat Kardanov, a witness, says: “I was going back home past the building after I took my daughter to school. All of a sudden, a few bearded men rushed out of the car and started shooting. I hid in the doorway of a nearby house. They killed a policeman at the start, and after that — a young man, a civilian, who was standing by the car. They threw grenades, the policemen responded with grenades too. It was impossible to tell who was a policeman and who was a Wahhabi. A guy in a T-shirt with a rifle came up to me. I thought at first he was a Wahhabi but he told me, “Be careful, there’s a militant hiding in the next doorway.”|
|“We were driving down Kirov Street to take our daughter from school. We were passing Arsenal when I saw a Wahhabi standing in front of the shop. He was wearing a mask and a leather jacket with an orange strap on his arm. He was virtually spraying the street with the gunfire. So I risked it, sped up and we passed.”|
So what about the jamaats in our midst?
When we’re taking kids to school, buying a cup of coffee in a restaurant, taking the elevator up to the office… Shots ring out. Explosions outside. Bodies in the street. Masked and armed men taking hostages, waving their weapons, and crying, “Allahu akhbar!”
It is something to be aware of. We need all the information we can get.
Let’s not forget the Price of Liberty.