Friday, January 3, 2014

A weekly occurrence in Dagestan: anti-terrorist operations

In my recent post about the bombings in Volgograd I wrote the following:
The Dagestani terrorists have learned the lessons of Chechnia well, and they are never trying to hold on to any territory or to create some kind of Wahabi statelet in Dagestan: quite to the contrary, day after day after day, the security forces engage the Dagestani terrorists who each time end up either captured or dead (mostly the latter). The reason for that is obvious: the Dagestani terrorists are weak and they cannot take on even the local cops. But they are just strong enough to strap explosives on some young man or woman and send them to blow themselves up on a bus or train station.
The footage I want to show here today is a typical example of an almost weekly occurrence in Dagestan: the security forces are tipped-off by local people (most Dagestanis absolutely *hate* terrorists) and the show up in the dark of night to quietly evacuate all the inhabitants of the building except the suspected terrorists.  As dawn breaks, the security forces call the terrorists and offer them to surrender.  When the latter typically refuse, their relatives are given the opportunity to talk to them with the hope that they will let go those who do not want to die, or who cannot make the decision.  In today's video you see a grandmother talking to her daughter who refuses to surrender but who accepts to have the grandmother take away the her grand-daughter.  Finally, the security forces launch an assault on the terrorists and kill them all.  Here is the footage of what occured yesterday in the city of Khasavyurt:

At the end of the video some of the weapons found inside the appartment are shown.

Marat Shikhshaitov
Over the past year I have seen many such videos on Russian TV daily news shows and they all pretty much go along the same scenario.  A much less frequent scenario, but which also happens every few months or so, is that a terrorist group is spotted somewhere in the mountains and a multi-agency search and destroy mission is arranged between the local police, the special police, elements of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Spetsnaz forces from the FSB (the military Spetsnaz GRU typically does not participate in such operations).  This is a much more dangerous operations and the terrorists often succeed in wounding or even killing a few security agents before being killed themselves.

As for the terrorists, they typically either kill cops on checkpoints on plant a car-bomb near a police station or court building.  From time to time they like to kill a local official or a local imam who dares to openly disapprove of their actions.   The vast majority of these attacks are executed inside Dagestan although some reach into the othe parts of southern Russia, or even further.

Aisha Idigova
This is the sad reality of life in Dagestan today were people are trying to live their daily lives against a background of apparently neverending security operations and while the security services clearly have the upper hand, at least so far, the psychological and economic toll on the republic is terrible even if relatively few Dagestanis are themselves direct victims of this slow, creeping war between Wahabi terrorists and the security agencies.   Just imagine having to go to school, shopping or to work in a place where you might at any time find yourself near a bombing or a security operation.

A few words about the terrorists now.  They are also rather typical.  Yesterday, three bodies were found after the assault, one has yet to be identified, but the two others are well known to the security services.  They are Marat Shikhshaitov, born in 1987, he left his wife and three kids to join the Wahabi underground in 2012 where he participated several bombings and common criminal operations, and  Aisha Idigova, born in 1986, she is the widow of another well-known terrorist - Ruslan Magometov - who was killed in 2006 by the security forces during an operation similar to the one which took place yesterday.

In a tactical sense the security forces has scored another "victory": three dangerous terrorists have been killed, no civilians or security forces were hurt.  But on a strategic level, this is yet another small defeat for Dagestan because it further strenghthens the image of Dagestan as a hotbed of terrorism and extremism.  What is particularly worriesome is that there is no end in sight for all the reasons I mentioned in my previous post and which can be summed up by saying "Dagestan is not Chechnia".  There really is no local solution, no Dagestani Kadyrov, and the only possible 'solution' would be to do almost the exact opposite of what has been done in Chechnia - instead of giving Dagestan a maximal degree of independence and autonomy, the Kremlin could declare martial law, suspend all the local authorites, flood the republic with security forces and basically reorganize all of Dagestani society, in particular the power structures, along non-ethic lines.  At least that is the theoretical option.  To what degree this is actually a realistic plan is very much debated with a lot of very smart and well informed observers resolutely opposed to such a "solution".  I am personally also rather dubious about such an approach.

The other solution is to keep going on the current course and just hope that a day will come when the Dagestanis will get really fed up with what is happening now.  And when I say "the Dagestanis" I don't mean a majority simply because a majority is *already* fed up.  No, I mean an overwhelming super-majority which would demand that the various local business and ethnic elites get together and agree to take action.  I believe that such an effort has to be primarily the responsabilty and initiative of the local authorities and not of the Federal Center.  All that the latter can do is provide support and ressources.

Whether such a change in the Dagestani society will happen I don't know.  Nor can I predict, even in general terms, how long it would take.   All I know is that for the foreseeable future real change is unlikely and that the weekly reports from Dagestan about more terrorist being killed by securty forces will continue.

The Saker