On October 13, Kabardino-Balkaria marked the seventh anniversary of the attack on Nalchik, the republic’s capital. Groups of militants staged simultaneous attacks on the headquarters of the police, Federal Security Service (FSB) and several other agencies in the republic. In the resulting violence, 35 police officers and members of the military, 14 civilians and 92 militants were killed. In addition, 129 servicemen and 66 civilians were injured.
The trial of the suspected perpetrators of the attack is one of the largest court processes to have taken place in the Russian Federation. Yet, despite its scale and importance, the Russian media practically ignores it. According to many experts, the continuing court process has adversely affected the situation in the republic. “There is a public request to end the trial soon,” the director of Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Center, Valery Khatazhukov, told Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot). “People get the impression that since the trial has been on for so long, something is wrong with it,” said Marat Khokonov, a local university professor. According to Khatazhukov, there are several reasons why the court process is slow: the Russian government abolished jury trials for terrorism suspects, all separate cases connected to the 2005 Nalchik raid were merged together while some witnesses started to withdraw their testimony, alleging they had been tortured or otherwise forced to provide evidence against the suspects (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 12).
According to the official account of events, on the night of October 14, 2005, at least 250 armed militants attacked various offices in Nalchik. Officials claim that the militants’ raid was staged by Aslan Maskhadov (who died on March 5, 2005), Shamil Basaev, Ilyas Gorchkhanov, Anzor Astemirov and foreign insurgent leaders—Khattab, Abu Al-Valid and Abu-Dzeit. The attackers reportedly planned to overthrow the government of Kabardino-Balkaria and create an Islamic state in the North Caucasus. Prosecutors have stated they would ask the court to pass life sentences on the people who are on trial. The suspects and their lawyers have not admitted guilt. Rights activists adopted a special appeal in regard to the ongoing trial in Nalchik. “One to one and a half years before these events [October 2005 attack on Nalchik], religious forces that were in favor of armed jihad comprised small groups and had no influence whatsoever among the Muslims,” the appeal read. “However, unlawful and unjustified reprisals against Muslims, their physical persecution, torture, unlawful arrest, searches and closures of mosques, promoted rapid radicalization of republican Muslims and strengthening of the jihadi forces among them” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 12). Days before the seventh anniversary of the attack on Nalchik, the website of the Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Center, Zapravakbr.ru, was brought down by unknown attackers (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 9).
In fact, Kabardino-Balkaria was among the “quiet” republics of the North Caucasus not only up to the October 2005 events in Nalchik, but also for a period of time afterwards. The security situation gradually deteriorated in the republic and instability climaxed in 2010–2011 after the security services killed the moderate leader of the militant underground, Anzor Astemirov, in March 2010. This previously stable republic quickly turned into one of the deadliest in the North Caucasus, and the security situation there has remained precarious ever since. Apparently, the authorities’ plan to eliminate the underground militancy in the republic by heavily pressuring the Muslim community has backfired. Such well-known Islamic leaders as Astemirov and Musa Mukozhev in fact were legal Islamic activists for a long time, but the government eventually became dissatisfied with their activities as they and their followers were not under direct government control. So the state’s desire to have total control over all social forces in Kabardino-Balkaria at the very least contributed to the republic’s destabilization, even if it was not the primary cause.
The scale of the process in Nalchik is impressive. There are 57 people currently on trial, 1,300 witnesses and 191 victims. The oldest person among the suspects is 40 years old and the youngest one is 24. Twenty-nine lawyers and six prosecutors are involved in the court process. The trial has accumulated 1,300 volumes, with the indictment alone constituting 530 volumes (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 12).
The Russian security services have scored a couple of milestone victories since the 2005 attack, such as wiping out almost the entire leadership of the republican insurgency in April 2011. However, the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria is far from stable. According to Kavkazsky Uzel, in the period of July to September, 25 persons died as a result of the insurgency in the republic and 10 others were wounded. Twenty-one of those killed were suspected rebels, while three law enforcement agents and a civilian were also killed (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, October 5). On October 12, a counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced in Nalchik after two suspected militants barricaded themselves in the basement of an apartment block in the center of the city. Two rebels and one police officer were killed in the ensuing shootout. The rebels were identified as 28-year-old Rustam Tokhov and 29-year-old Asadulagi Mir-Zurab. According to police reports, the two slain insurgents had gone underground in September (http://regnum.ru, October 12).
The attack of October 2005 became the landmark event for Kabardino-Balkaria. Afterwards, the fissure between Moscow and the local population clearly manifested itself. It would be in Moscow’s interest to lay this incident to rest as quickly as possible. However, the fact that the trial is dragging on for so long means that the divergence between Moscow and a large segment of Kabardino-Balkarian society is so wide that neither convictions nor acquittals will restore a positive attitude toward Russia in the republic. Thus the only remaining option for Moscow is to delay the end of the trial, in order to make as many people as possible forget about it, and then give those on trial as harsh a sentence as possible.