By Matthias Schepp in Moscow
In Nazran, the old capital of the troubled Caucasus republic of Ingushetia, a large chart is hanging on a wall at the headquarters of the FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency. It resembles a family tree at first glance. In fact, it documents a life-and-death struggle.
The chart depicts 50 cells of the Islamic underground operating in Ingushetia alone -- a republic not much bigger than Luxembourg. They are part of a rebel movement that wants to create a "Caucasus emirate" in the region. Its ideologues dream of a strict Islamic state stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea -- a Waziristan in the Caucasus.
The size of the cells ranges from two or three to about a dozen members each. The chart lists their names, ages, addresses and telephone numbers, as well as physical features such as burns or missing limbs. Some of the entries include a passport photo, while others show nothing but a blurred snapshot. Branches of the chart point to relatives and friends. Crosses identify fighters who have already been killed.
For some time, the intelligence agents in Nazran have had a growing sense "that terrorism is like a cancer, and that for each activist we eliminate, another tumor grows in its place."
Whistling in a Dark Forest
Even before two female suicide bombers, presumably from the Caucasus, killed 39 and wounded more than 70 people in the Moscow metro on March 29, it was clear to anyone standing in front of the FSB chart that the government's fanfares of victory in fighting terrorism sounded like someone whistling in a dark forest.
It has been almost a year since the Kremlin announced its "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya, the republic bordering Ingushetia. And as long ago as October 2007, Russian strongman and then President Vladimir Putin boasted that the terrorists didn't stand a chance, that their numbers were shrinking, and that there had been only 25 attacks in the previous eight months -- one-tenth as many attacks as there were in 2005.
But then, last year, the number of attacks skyrocketed to about 800. According to the Russian Interior Ministry and the presidential commissioner for the Caucasus region, about 200 underground insurgents were killed and 600 arrested in 2009. And now terrorism has reached the heart of the country, Moscow, once again, plunging the Kremlin into a public relations crisis.
The 'Che Guevara of Islam'
Were all the security measures the government implemented in the last 10 years of no value? Have the police and intelligence services failed once again? Has the new Caucasus policy announced by Moscow failed even before the president has been able to initiate it? And will the Putin/Medvedev duo be forced to admit complete failure, after having repeatedly promised -- and failed to deliver -- the same thing to the country's 142 million citizens: stability and security?
After the bloody terrorist attack, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's security council, announced that there would be "retribution," to which Prime Minister Putin added that the culprits would be "liquidated." The novelist Vladimir Sorokin characterized Putin's response as the automatic threatening gesture of a political leader trying to delay the inevitable: the further disintegration of the Russian empire.
The recent killing of Islamist leaders by Moscow's intelligence services appears to have triggered the latest major terrorist operation. On March 2, 70 elite FSB soldiers surrounded a house in the village of Ekashevo in Ingushetia. One of Russia's most-wanted terrorists and 16 of his followers had barricaded themselves inside the house: Alexander Tikhomirov, the man Moscow counterterrorism investigators believe was behind the Nevsky Express bombing in November 2009. The explosion caused a high-speed train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg to derail, killing 28 passengers.
Tikhomirov, who was from the Siberian region of Buryatia, converted to Islam at the age of 15 and changed his name to Said Buryatsky. Moscow newspapers described the hatemonger as the "Che Guevara of Islam." The special commando killed the terrorist leader and six of his fighters, and took 10 others into custody.
The 'Black Widows'
Tikhomirov a.k.a. Buryatsky had taught in mosques and was the head of a "school of shahidin," or martyrs. Intelligence officials believe that he trained about 30 people for suicide bombings. Because the shahidin include many women, Moscow's security authorities keep a watchful eye on the widows of killed insurgents. Some 19 of the 41 terrorists who took more than 900 people hostage in a Moscow musical theater in 2002 were women. Malisha Mutayeva was one of them.
Her story illustrates the spiral of violence and retribution that continues to exert a tight grip on the Caucasus, despite the Kremlin's claims to the contrary.
The Mutayeva family's home is located in the village of Assinovskaya, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the Chechen capital Grozny. It is a cottage with crumbling plaster, not one of the stately houses typical of the Caucasus.
At the beginning of the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s, the family was still living in Bamut, a mountain village and rebel stronghold. But Russian fighter jets destroyed their house, and Malisha Mutayeva's fiancé was later killed by Moscow forces. In her early twenties at the time, she resolved never to marry and subsequently joined the rebels.
In October 2002, Mutayeva's mother recalls, her daughter calmly said goodbye to her, pretending that she had found a job in a neighboring republic. Instead, she traveled to Moscow and joined the terrorist group that would later occupy the Dubrovka Theater, where 134 hostages and terrorists were killed when military and special police units stormed the building.
Moscow took its revenge on her family. Security forces arrested Mutayeva's younger sister Luisa and took her away in the middle of the night. She hasn't been heard from since. Since 2002, the human rights organization "Memorial" has documented 1,303 cases of people being kidnapped or killed in Chechnya, presumably by Chechen and Russian special forces.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from World section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH