Russian Killings and Kidnaps Extend Dirty War in Ingushetia
Like many in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia, Petimat Albakavar lives in terror. “Nobody sleeps properly. We can’t because we are listening to every sound, waiting for the police to knock at the door,” she says.
On 10 July, Petimat’s 26-year-old son, Batyr, was taken away at dawn by armed men claiming to be Ingush police. They appeared at the door and demanded to see the family’s passports but refused to show any identification themselves. “As soon as they left I went to all the police stations, but I couldn’t find my son. I filed complaints with the police and government officials, but nobody knew anything,” says Petimat, her eyes weary with grief and fear.
“Ten days later we found a report on the internet that someone with my son’s name, whom they described as a rebel leader, had been killed in the forest. It was Batyr. His passport was with him.”
According to human rights investigators, hundreds of civilians such as Batyr have been “disappeared”, tortured and murdered by Russian security services as they struggle to quell a rebellion that spans across Ingushetia and the neighbouring republics of Chechnya and Dagestan. In June the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, was critically injured by a car bomb in an apparent assassination attempt. As suicide bombers strike with alarming frequency, the security forces are unleashing a wave of terror which critics say is only serving to fuel the rebellion.
Thousands of Russian troops have been sent into Ingushetia, a largely Islamic republic the size of Suffolk. Masked soldiers man the checkpoints at every major intersection and the population lives under the constant watch of the security forces and their informants.
The human rights organisation Mashr estimates that the number of those abducted and then killed nearly doubled last year to 212. This year the figure has already reached 210. Since 2002, when Russian forces became active in Ingushetia, Mashr reports that 1,000 people have been found dead and 175 are still missing.
Rebel attacks on soldiers have also increased. Some 200 Russian and Ingush police and soldiers have been killed in seven years. “Things are really dangerous now,” says Illias, a local sergeant at the main police station in Ingushetia’s largest town, Nazran. “We’ve all lost friends. We risk our lives every day,” he adds, “but we need to make a living.” On 17 August a suicide bomber killed 24 of Illias’s colleagues in a single attack.
Kremlin hawks argue that a necessary battle is taking place against extremists bent on establishing an Islamic caliphate across the Caucasus. But many analysts believe that, while a small vanguard of Islamists with links to international jihadi movements does exist, aggrieved relatives who have joined the rebellion to avenge the brutal tactics of the security forces are doing most of the fighting.
Magomed Mutsolgov works for Mashr. Stored in his computer are countless images of the mutilated bodies of the abducted. Many of his colleagues have been driven out of Ingushetia by threats. Some have been murdered.
The grisly computer gallery includes photographs of Petimat’s dead son. Batyr’s body is covered in lacerations, large blackened patches consistent with electrocution, and his right shoulder is almost entirely severed from his torso.Each week, according to Mutsolgov, young men are taken by the security services: “They can be taken on suspicion of being a rebel, knowing a rebel or just having been seen with a suspected rebel.” He adds that men are also taken in for appearing too overtly Muslim.
“The security services used to sell the bodies back, but the torture marks became difficult to explain, now they just destroy the bodies,” he says.
No one has been convicted for the killings. Human rights groups say the number of active security forces, comprising different Chechen, Ingush and Russian organisations, make appeals and investigations by family members almost impossible.
Mashr claims that the repression relies heavily on the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his notoriously brutal forces but is orchestrated by the Russian secret service, the FSB. The allegations of systematic torture and killing were put to the FSB as part of a special investigation by Channel 4, which will broadcast a documentary* on the conflict on Friday, but no response was given.
Osama Basairov works for Russia’s leading human rights organisation, Memorial, which has monitored the escalation of violence in Ingushetia since 2000. “In our investigations we question everybody we possibly can who is connected to the murdered or disappeared, and in just about all the cases we find they are innocent people in no way connected to the rebels. It is this killing of innocents that is driving more and more men into the woods to join the war,” he says.
Digging around anxiously in her cupboard, Petimat Albakavar produces her son’s licence to work as an aircraft engineer. “He had special security clearance. He had just been promoted to head of his department; he worked very hard. He had no time to be a rebel, he was always studying for his exams.”
*Unreported World: Russia’s Dirty War, Channel 4, 25 September, 7.35pm.