BeslanТs Main Terrorist Finally Caught

Ali Taziyev, a successor to slain Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, was taken alive in the Ingush town of Malgobek. Taziyev — also known as Magas and as Magomed Yevloyev — was the second-most important figure of the so-called Caucasus Emirate after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov. Credit for Taziyev’s arrest goes primarily to Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and, to a large extent, to Vladimir Gurba, regional head of the Federal Security Service. His arrest is the latest in a series of high-profile successes that include the capture of Rustamat Makhauri, whose people killed Russians living in Ingushetia, and the killing of rebel ideologist Said Buryat.

Taziyev’s arrest also shows that in the Caucasus, everything depends on who is in charge. When Ingush President Murad Zyazikov was in power, riot policemen were shot in the streets and the authorities passed the incidents off as suicide. The FSB presence in the region was limited to stray detachments of gunmen who sat in concrete bunkers, occasionally venturing into Ingushetia as a hunter looks for wild animals in the woods, and later labeling anyone they happened to kill as a terrorist.

Once Yevkurov became president, the situation changed markedly for the better. Now, the authorities kill only those who need to be eliminated. They are ruthless in their methods, but fair.

The capture of Taziyev has produced a huge bonus in the form of information that security forces are dragging out of him. But it is also a problem of sorts because Taziyev led the terrorist attack in Beslan in 2004.

In fact, I believe that Taziyev — who shortly before that Sept. 1 assault had been named by Basayev as the commander of the Ingush sector of the Caucasus Front — personally commanded the Beslan siege and left the scene on the evening of Sept. 2, the day before federal forces stormed the school. He left to save himself for future battles. What’s more, I believe that the main goal of the “investigation” subsequently dedicated to the Beslan attack was to conceal Taziyev’s involvement. Investigators have consistently claimed that 32 militants arrived at the school in a GAZ truck. But no more than 25 people can fit in such trucks, and all the evidence indicates that there were two groups — one led by Ruslan Khuchbarov, and the other by none other than Taziyev.

A question: If there were two groups, and one was led by Khuchbarov and the other by Taziyev, who was in charge? For a long time after Beslan, neither hide nor hair was seen of Taziyev. Federal authorities announced that he had been killed in the assault on the school and were in no hurry to admit their mistake in letting him escape. Basayev was careful not to make mention of Taziyev either, so as to forestall a manhunt against him. But in the end, it was the Ingush Interior Ministry that spoiled everything when it announced that Taziyev was behind the killing of Deputy Interior Minister Dzhabrail Kostoyev, a local version of Ivan the Terrible’s notorious Malyuta Skuratov. †

The story of Taziyev marks a low point in the declining professionalism of Russian intelligence agencies. The success in apprehending him is all the more outstanding for showing that, even in today’s government, there are intelligence operatives capable of fulfilling their duty to their country by carrying out what appears to be a doomed battle against the advance of Islamic fundamentalism in the Caucasus. Yet, there is a chilling aspect to all of this. Not one of the militants who has been captured or killed recently — neither Said Buryat nor Anzor Astemirov — was Chechen. Not one of them was fighting for an independent Chechnya. They were all fighting for the Caucasus Emirate.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

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