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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ingush Family Solves Kidnapping Its Own Way

NAZRAN, Southern Russia -- The plan was simple. Kidnap two children, start negotiations with the family, collect the ransom.

The family's response was startling. It embarked on its own kidnapping rampage, resulting in three deaths, five abductions and, 100 days later, the safe return of the two children.

This was the gripping outcome of a sensational abduction in the Russian region of Ingushetia, next door to the battered separatist region of Chechnya. In this area of the Caucasus, crime is often an internal matter between quarreling clans. So when members of the Belkharoyev family discovered that two of their boys had been kidnapped, they relied on their own resources - and traditional methods - to recover them.

The Belkharoyev kidnapping was typical in its meticulous planning, lightning execution and purely commercial objective. It was unusual in only one facet: the family's vow to pay no ransom. "That was our absolute position," said Yahat Belkharoyev, a relative of the two boys and patriarch of a large Ingush clan.

Belkharoyev told his story in the presence of an Ingush official who confirmed the account. The boys were kidnapped in June, but negotiations and double-dealing continued into October. "This is a highly developed system," said Belkharoyev, a physician by training. "War is no deterrent."

Going to the authorities for help was not an option. That is not the tradition, and, moreover, confidence in law enforcement is low in super-corrupt Russia. The Belkharoyevs are one of Ingushetia's wealthiest families. Yahat is deputy speaker in the region's parliament and heads the social and health committee. His house stands on a main street in Nazran, the largest Ingush city. The compound's high walls, sturdy brick buildings and ornate metallic roof decoration bespeak prosperity. The large number of security guards betrays the fears. "All prominent people in Ingushetia were targets for kidnapping," Belkharoyev said. "Adults, of course, took precautions. We didn't think children were in danger."

But an Ingush kidnapping gang in league with Chechens was watching Abdulhamid Belkharoyev, 14, a nephew of Yahat's, as well as Idris, a 9-year-old cousin. On the morning of June 22, the boys boarded a bus for the gym. They were supposed to be back by 11 a.m. When they failed to arrive by noon, alarms sounded throughout the family.

They had disappeared without a trace - or even a ransom demand. Unknown to the Belkharoyevs, the kidnappers had stuffed the boys into the back seat of a white sedan and whisked them into the wilds of Chechnya.

The family offered a $20,000 reward for information. They got it. The Yamudayev clan, based in Gudermes, a town in east Chechnya, fingered the Jemilkhanov gang in Urus-Martan, to the west. That was only part of the story, but it gave the victims' family a lead.

Then someone told them that the Ingush accomplices were led by Bashir Barakhoyev, a trusted family friend who had offered condolences for the abductions. The family invited him for a visit and took him captive.

The Ingush kidnapper sang. He confirmed that hostages were held by the Jemilkhanov gang but sprang a surprise: The Yamudayevs, who had provided the first tip, had ordered up the crime! In effect, for $20,000, one gang provided information to lure the Belkharoyevs into ransom talks with the other gang, to get more money.

The family had other ideas. They forced their captive to phone the kidnappers and invite them for talks, hoping to nab a few of the gang members and trade them for the boys.

The plan went awry. The kidnappers became suspicious and tried to flee. A 15-minute firefight broke out. One of the Jemilkhanov gang died on the spot; two others were wounded. The Belkharoyevs rushed the wounded to an Ingush hospital. One died on the way; the other died a few days later, despite frantic efforts. "We collected blood from our family. We needed to keep him alive for a future exchange. A corpse would not be enough to get the boys back," said Ibrahim Belkharoyev, the older brother of the kidnapped Abdulhamid.

One of the dead kidnappers was a brother of a top gang leader. "We had to keep his death a secret. We still wanted to trade him," Ibrahim Belkharoyev said. They stored the corpses in a freezer.

The family decided they needed live captives. They abducted a driver from the Jemilkhanov gang. The driver let slip that one of the original kidnappers belonged to the Ingush OMON, a special riot control police squad. The family took him hostage, too.

But demands for the boys' release went nowhere. The family approached the Chechen government of President Aslan Maskhadov for help. Maskhadov sent a middleman, and the Belkharoyevs explained the problem. They told him about the refrigerated Chechens.

But soon, the criminals demanded the corpses, along with money. "The only way they could have found out about it was through Maskhadov's man. This made Maskhadov our enemy, too," said Ibrahim Belkharoyev.

The solution: more kidnappings. This time, the family abducted two of Maskhadov's presidential guards. "Our terms were simple: If you don't return the children safe, we will shoot all our hostages,'' said Ibrahim Belkharoyev.

Finally, on Oct. 3, a taxi pulled up to the family compound. Nine-year-old Idris was home. A week later, Abdulhamid, the 14-year-old, was freed.

In return for the boys, the family released the frozen corpses, the driver, the Ingush cop and the presidential guards. They also turned over the trusted family "friend" in league with the Ingush captors, to the Chechen kidnappers.

The Chechens executed him.

End of story? Ibrahim Belkharoyev thinks everyone is satisfied. "We just want to be friends with everyone," he said.