New York  : London  : Brussels  : Moscow  : Beijing  : Sydney 
 
 
Client Sign In
Putin Praises 'Ruthless' Operation

President Vladimir Putin vowed to show no mercy toward insurgents and praised law enforcement agencies for their ruthlessness in quashing a raid by scores of militants in the Kabardino-Balkarian capital of Nalchik.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday rejected Chechen rebel claims that they had participated in Thursday's attacks and said the gunmen were "local bandits," not Islamic militants.

Eyewitnesses reportedly saw Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev among the attackers, and rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev said Basayev had traveled to the republic three days before the attacks.

Authorities on Friday declared that order had been fully restored in the North Causasus city of 240,000, but not before well over 100 people -- the vast majority of them raiders -- had been killed. Among the dead were 24 law enforcement officials, including 19 local policemen, and at least 12 civilians.

A total of 94 raiders were killed, including the suspected leader, Ingush militant Iless Gorchkhanov, and at least 15 others were detained, officials said.

"In the future, we will act in the same way against those who take up arms to threaten the lives and well-being of our citizens and the integrity of the Russian Federation,'' Putin told Ivanov, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Federal Security Service First Deputy Director Nikolai Klimashin during a Friday meeting in the Kremlin shown on state television. "We will act as toughly and consistently as we did on this occasion."

Putin called the Nalchik operation a shining success. "It's great that all of the law enforcement and power agencies acted in a coordinated, effective and ruthless manner," he said. The so-called power agencies include the Defense Ministry and the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

He again praised law enforcement agencies for their "well-coordinated action" during a meeting with security officials on Saturday.

The group of raiders -- which the regional Interior Ministry put at 150 men -- launched a series of near-simultaneous attacks on police, security and military installations in Nalchik at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Fierce fighting rattled the city throughout the day, and by evening, law enforcement officials had cornered a handful of remaining fighters in a police station and a souvenir store across the street from the regional FSB headquarters.

At about 9:30 a.m. Friday, soldiers shot grenades through the barred window of the store and used an armored personnel carrier to smash through the store's wall to save two hostages and kill three militants, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.

At about 2 p.m., security forces killed 10 militants holed up in the police station, Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov told reporters in Nalchik. "Nine hostages were freed. They are alive and well," he said.

He also said four police officers were rescued from militants who were trying to escape in a van. The militants were killed.

In all, about 20 people were taken hostage and most were freed alive during the two days of fighting. The Associated Press reported that among them were an unspecified number of children.

Novikov said that Gorchkhanov, the militants' suspected leader, was killed in the fighting and that authorities were trying to identify other slain attackers.

Kolesnikov said Thursday that the attacks had been organized by Gorchkhanov and Anzor Astemirov, head of a local Islamist group. Both were wanted on suspicion of attacking the regional anti-drug agency's offices in Nalchik last December.

Novikov said the majority of the militants, mostly between the ages of 20 and 30, were local residents, while the rest were from other Caucasus republics.

He said they had attacked in six groups of eight to 15 people.

Novikov also said 85 law enforcement officers had been wounded during the fighting.

Conflicting official casualty counts put the number of dead civilians at 12 to 18. Kabardino-Balkarian Prime Minister Gennady Gubin said 120 civilians were injured.

Security forces combed Nalchik for militants over the weekend. Putin on Thursday had ordered the city sealed and that anyone resisting arrest be shot.

As many as 1,500 troops and 500 riot police officers were dispatched from other regions to Kabardino-Balkaria to participate in the manhunt, Nurgaliyev told reporters.

Dhamilya Khagarova, the republic's presidential press secretary, said Sunday that 15 suspected militants had been detained.

But Novikov put the figure much higher, saying 36 were detained Friday alone. Regnum news agency, citing a local police source, said two more were held Sunday.

Authorities initially linked the raid to a police standoff with a group of suspected militants in a forest near Nalchik, but the region's top prosecutor, Yury Ketov, rejected that Saturday, saying the attacks were "a carefully planned and prepared operation," Interfax reported.

"The attacks must not in any way be considered as a response by rebels to the police special operation a day earlier," he said.

Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov agreed, saying in an interview published Saturday in state-owned Rossiiskaya Gazeta: "It was a thoroughly planned action. They prepared for it for a long time."

But the defense minister said Sunday that the militants had been forced to "act spontaneously" after law enforcement officials uncovered the group.

Ivanov also said the militants were exclusively "local bandits."

"There was no invasion in Nalchik," Ivanov said in televised remarks in New Delhi, India, where he was attending Russian-Indian joint military exercises. "This is complete nonsense. ... Local bandits carried out the raid."

He said Nalchik would be cordoned off "until the police check every house."

Contradicting Ivanov, Kanokov earlier said the attackers included local Wahhabis, followers of a fundamentalist strain of Islam, as well as extremists from outside the republic.

The Chechen rebel web site Kavkaz Center claimed in a statement posted Friday that Chechen rebels had led the raid and that it had been organized by the Caucasus Front, an umbrella group of radical Islamist networks in the North Caucasus.

Nalchik eyewitnesses were quoted in national newspapers as saying that they had seen Basayev among the attackers. Zakayev, the rebels' envoy in London, told Kommersant that Basayev had traveled to Kabardino-Balkaria last Monday. The whereabouts of Basayev, who has long evaded authorities despite a $10 million bounty on his head, were unclear Sunday.

Despite his praise for a job well done, Putin also rebuked law enforcement officials for not preventing the raid. "It is a bad thing that bandit raids like this are still possible. It is a great tragedy that we are bearing losses among law enforcement officers and the civilian population," he said during the televised part of Friday's meeting.

The State Duma approved a motion to summon Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and senior law enforcement officials for a closed hearing this week. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told reporters that deputies wanted to know why the raid and the subsequent two days of fighting could have happened.

Kanokov, a wealthy businessman and former Duma deputy whom Putin appointed as president of Kabardino-Balkaria last month, blamed a growing extremism brought on by the region's poor social and economic conditions. "Low incomes and unemployment create fertile soil for waging an ideological war against us by religious extremists and other destructive forces," he said, Interfax reported.

Kanokov's predecessor, Valery Kokov, ruled the region with an iron fist for 15 years and spent most of the past year out of office due to poor health.

The slow collapse of the local government is largely responsible for the growth of Islamic extremism, said Nikolai Silayev, a researcher with the Center for Caucasus Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. "There has been a power vacuum in the region in recent years, and Moscow made no effort to fill it in a timely manner," he said.

Silayev said corruption was also contributing to extremism, noting that all local businesses were in the hands of several powerful clans and very few opportunities remained for the majority of the population.

Nalchik authorities will pay a compensation of 50,000 rubles ($1,750) to the families of those who died in the attacks, Itar-Tass reported.


(The Moscow Times 17.x.05)

 
News Archive