Monday night/early Tuesday morning several major battles took place in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia where up to 200 rebels launched a major raid. The bulk of the fighting was in the town of Nazran (a city of 126,000 and one time capital of Ingushetia), and the most intense battles were around the Ingush interior ministry, the police headquarters, and a nearby prison holding up to 50 suspected rebels. Although the buildings themselves were largely destroyed in the fighting the attacks were eventually repulsed, and none of the prisoners were freed. The fighting in Nazran had largely died down by dawn as the attackers melted away, although there are still reports of skirmishes throughout Ingushetia. At the time of writing the death toll is reported to be 92, with many more injured. Most of the attackers seem to have escaped – certainly, there is little news of any captured by Russian forces.
The attack was timed for maximum embarrasment for the Russian Government, coinciding with the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s 1941 attack of Russia.
It is unclear who exactly launched the raid. Initial speculation was that the attackers were Chechens, a theory given extra credence by Aslan Maskhadov’s recent statement that the rebels were planning to change their strategy from terrorist bombings to a more conventional military campaign over the summer. However, it now seems that, although Chechen fighters were involved, a large number of Ingushetians also participated in the raid. Maskhadov has denied all involvement, and a group named Headquarters of Ingushetian Armed Forces (Mujahideen) have claimed responsibility. Their spokesman Commander Amir Assadullah said:
“Early morning of June 22, in accordance with the ratified plan of combat operations, combined units of Ingushetian Forces (Mujahideen) and mobile squads from Chechnya attached to them entered a number of cities and villages of Ingushetia and attacked the positions of Russian invaders and Ingushetian [pro-Moscow] police.”
He went on to claim some improbable military successes (for example, 300 Russians killed for only 14 of his forces, 7 military bases and 23 military vehicles destroyed or badly damaged) and to deny reports that they had targetted civilians. There seems to be some truth in this – the Washington Post reports that the attackers (disguised as Russian troops) were carrying out a zachistka (cleansing) operation, mirroring operations undertaken by Russian forces in Chechnya where civilians are rounded up, detained and often tortured. The attackers seems to have been selective in who they rounded up, however, as the Moscow Times reports:
Law enforcers suffered the most casualties because the fighters had specifically targeted them, witnesses said. Some fighters dressed in police camouflage raided police checkpoints and stopped cars to check IDs, summarily executing higher-ranking police officials, security officers and prosecutors, while letting rank-and-file policemen and civilians go, they said.
One Nazran policeman said Tuesday that he was stopped at a checkpoint by two attackers, and after some deliberations they let him go. One of the fighters spoke Ingush, while another spoke Chechen, said officer, who asked not be identified.
“The Chechen said that they [police officers] are all assholes and should be shot, but the Ingush wouldn’t let him, noting that I am only a patrolman,” he said.
Other related news:
Putin quickly visited Ingushetia to survey the destruction for himself. He acknowledged that the Russian federal government was clearly not doing enough to protect Ingushetia, and promised an increased troop deployment in the republic. He told troops “[you] need to seek and destroy. Those who can be caught must be taken alive and tried in court.”
Russian border guards have stepped up patrols of Russia’s 1,000km frontier with Georgia in a bid to prevent further infiltration and, hopefully, prevent some of the attackers from escaping into Georgia.
The BBC has a fact-sheet about Ingushetia
Chechnyawar is posting regularly about the raid.
Dan Darling has some thoughts over at Winds of Change