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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Neither at War nor at Peace

Makhachkala,the capital of Dagestan in Russia,is mired in a Latin American-style dirty war. And now it faces a crackdown ahead of the Winter Olympics to be held at Sochi.

Written by New York Times | Published: October 29, 2013 1:32:58 am

ANDREW E KRAMER

The race lasted only a few seconds and ended with the sound of a gunshot. Shamil Abdulayev,who was 24 years old at the time,had tried to run away from a group of men he knew was bent on abducting him. They wore ski masks and travelled in a white Lada sedan with tinted windows.

“My boy was wounded in the leg,and witnesses said they hit him on the head with a rifle butt,put handcuffs on him and threw him in the car,” Patimat Abdulkadyrova,his mother,said of the episode this summer. The car drove away,disappearing into the traffic together with Abdulayev.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi,Russia,are four months away,but residents of Makhachkala,the capital of Dagestan,say they have been feeling the effects for months. The authorities,determined not to have the festivities marred by a terrorist attack,are clamping down on the seething North Caucasus region — which lies uncomfortably close to the Olympic city — picking up people suspected of being militants,detaining them without charges,human rights activists say.

The North Caucasus republics of Chechnya and Dagestan,which have long been the sites of an Islamic insurgency and terrorist attacks,are home to the bloodiest current conflict in Europe,the International Crisis Group said in a report. Last year,the fighting killed 700 people and wounded 525,it said. In the first half of this year,242 died and 253 were wounded.

The Caucasus Emirate,the main Islamist terrorist group in the region,released a video in July calling on supporters to attack the Olympics,which the group said were being held “on the bones” of dead Muslims. For a time,Russia tried amnesties and economic development to counter the violence,including an idea to build ski resorts in mountain provinces to coincide with the Olympics. The Caucasus Emirate responded by blowing up a ski lift.

With the approach of the Olympics,“all soft measures are being overturned”,Varvara Pakhomenko,a researcher at the International Crisis Group,said. “We are seeing in Dagestan the explosion of homes of relatives of militants,enforced disappearances and torture.”

Economic development never went far in Makhachkala,a forlorn city that received a measure of attention in the spring as the occasional home of the family of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects,Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In September,President Vladimir V Putin said the military and Interior Ministry should act more forcefully to improve security before the Olympics,but the crackdown began as long ago as January,rights groups say.

The region,not exactly at war but never having achieved peace,is mired in what resembles a Latin American-style dirty war. Abductions have been a signature,if unacknowledged,element of Russia’s anti-insurgency tactics for years. Reported instances of enforced disappearances have increased since January,when a new regional governor arrived in Dagestan and shifted the approach to security ahead of the Olympics,as per Memorial,a Russian rights group.

So far this year,58 people have been abducted by men in unmarked cars,19 of whom disappeared altogether,though leaving clues pointing to the security services,according to the group’s office in Makhachkala. A considerable part of the mayhem stems from blood feuds festering among the families of security agents and the families of the militants. The Kremlin has acknowledged this problem,and it has cracked down on local officials accused of using their positions to further personal feuds.

Residents of Makhachkala learned in September that federal investigators had accused their former mayor,Said D Amirov,of plotting a terrorist attack using a small shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The investigators said Amirov was planning to use the missile to shoot down the airplane of the head of the Dagestan pension fund,the newspaper Kommersant reported,and to pin the blame on militants. The plot failed,the article said,only because the mayor and two accomplices could not find anybody trained to fire the missile. Amirov says he has survived 16 assassination attempts by his enemies,leaving him using a wheelchair.

So far it remains unclear whether the reported increase in abductions of people suspected of being militants or the openly stated policy of arresting local officials accused of corruption is having much effect.

Ramazan J Jafarov,the deputy premier for security in Dagestani regional government,denied that the police secretly detained suspects. Residents and human rights advocates scoffed at his denials.

After Abdulayev vanished in June,doctors at a hospital told relatives they had released him to the police after treatment,said his mother. “We have been asking every day for months,and they say,‘We have not found your son.’ God willing,” she whispers,“this will come to a conclusion soon.”

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