On the morning of June 9, Lieutenant Colonel Musa Nalgiev, commander of the special-task police squad (OMON) in the republic of Ingushetia, left his home in Karabulak to go to a planning meeting at the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Unlike other days, this time his wife asked him to first drop their three daughters at school. Accompanied by his brother, also an OMON officer, and his personal driver, Nalgiev climbed into his Russian Niva jeep. The children were in the backseat. As the vehicle reached the nearest intersection, masked rebels jumped out of another car and began firing on Nalgiev's jeep. Everybody in the car -- including the three girls -- died instantly (Kommersant, June 10).
Almost simultaneously, another group of gunmen assassinated Galina Gubina in the village of Sleptsovskaya. Gubina had been a deputy head of the Sunzha district administration.
The number of rebel attacks in Ingushetia has increased significantly since early spring. On February 27, Ingush insurgents kidnapped Magomed Chakhkiev, a deputy to the Ingush parliament and a relative of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov. Despite official claims that he had been freed in May as a result of a special operation, the Ingushetia.ru website, the main voice of the Ingush opposition, reported that the gunmen were paid a $10 million ransom (Ingushetia.ru, May 2). On May 17, Dzhebrial Kostoev, a deputy minister of interior affairs of Ingushetia, was killed by a car bomb.
At the beginning of summer the rebels set up a special mobile unit that moves around the region by car. Both the OMON commander and Gubina were killed by such groups. Insurgents also used this tactic to attack a car carrying Federal Security Service (FSB) officers on June 4 and a military jeep with Russian troops on June 7. Two FSB officers and a military officer died in these attacks. Both attacks took place in the city of Nazran, a major Ingush city, in broad daylight.
This morning, June 15, Radio Liberty reported that three rebels had been killed near the Ingush village of Ali-Urt, while the Ingush insurgency reports, through Kavkaz Center, that during the last five days there were several clashes between Russian troops and insurgents in Ingushetia. The rebels claim that Russian losses are 10 to 15 dead and many wounded, while they lost two gunmen -- one was killed by shrapnel and one in a shoot-out.
As the attacks increasingly weakened the local law-enforcement system, the Ingush insurgency started to target the pro-Russian authorities in the republic. On May 18, one day after Kostoev's assassination, three masked gunmen slipped in the home of a senior official from the Ingush branch of the Russian Ministry of Emergencies (Interfax, May 18). On June 1, a car carrying the Ingush minister of health was attacked by gunfire, but the minister escaped unharmed.
Gubin's death was a particularly hard blow for Russian interests in Ingushetia. She had worked out and begun implementing a special federative program to return ethnic Russians to the republic. Gubina had personally met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, when he endorsed the program (regnum.ru, March 30).
The assassinations of Kostoev, Gubina, and Nalgiev clearly indicated that extra measures were needed to stop the latest wave of rebel attacks. The Kremlin has already taken steps to isolate the region from other parts of the North Caucasus. In March the airport was closed under the pretense of repairs. Checkpoints at the Ingushetia-Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia-North Ossetia borders were reinforced. In May, a special emergency response police squad was set up in North Ossetia to guard the border with Ingushetia (Itar-Tass, May 18).
Russian security officials know that the rebels hide out in the mountain forests in southern Ingushetia, and Russian troops launched an offensive against the militants on June 11. They were joined by FSB Special Forces who combed the forests near the village of Yandiri, a strategically important area located between the mountains and the valley. One official report says that law-enforcement agents located a rebel base, but the militants themselves had managed to retreat deeper in the mountain forests (Interfax, June 11). However, the FSB officers were able to seize a car, some ammunition, and food supplies. Quoting local sources, Ingushetia.ru reported that sounds of heavy shooting were heard coming from the area, but officials did not report any direct clashes. At the same time, the rebels claimed that four operatives of FSB Spetsnaz were killed during the fighting near Yandiri and many more were wounded (Kavkaz Center, June 11).
On June 14, the security officials started a new operation on a much larger scale. This time some 20 helicopters were used to scour the forests near the villagers of Ali-Urt and Surkhakhi (two settlements near the Ossetian border) for rebels. First, gun ships bombed the area with missiles, and then airborne troops landed near the forest. They moved forward while APCs brought up the rear (Kavkazky Uzel, June 14). The press service of the FSB's Ingush branch said that the troops were looking for a group of 20 or 25 gunmen who were allegedly hiding near the villages. However, no rebels were found. The operation ended in the afternoon, and at night the rebels responded by detonating a bomb near a police checkpoint on Ossetian territory near the Ingush border (Kavkazky Uzel, June 14).
The recent events in Ingushetia indicate the advances made by the local insurgency in their efforts to control the region and to effectively fight Russian troops. If the authorities fail to improve the situation quickly, the Kremlin could face the prospect of losing Ingushetia and turning the region into a haven for regional insurgents.