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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Buinaksk Apartment Bombers Convicted

MAKHACHKALA, Dagestan — A Dagestani court on Monday convicted six men in the 1999 bombing of a military apartment building in Buinaksk, the first of a series of bombings that provoked the latest war in Chechnya.

Two of the six men — Isa Zainutdinov, 62, and Alisultan Salikhov, 35 — were sentenced to life in prison. During the 12-week trial, Zainutdinov admitted transporting the explosives from Chechnya to Dagestan on the orders of Chechen commander Khattab, but insisted he was not told the truth about his cargo.

All six pleaded not guilty and withdrew confessions made while in custody, saying they confessed after being beaten and threatened by investigators.

"As a true Moslem, I am not afraid of death," Zainutdinov said in his final statement to the republic's Supreme Court. "Let those who blew up that building be afraid of it and let them live in this filthy world."

On Sept. 4, 1999, a truck packed with explosives blew up outside an apartment building housing military and civilian families in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk, killing 58 people and injuring more than 100. At the time, federal troops were fighting Chechen-backed Islamic rebels in several villages of Dagestan.

The bombing was the first of four apartment-building blasts that month, including two in Moscow. The Kremlin blamed them on Chechen separatists and said the bombings justified sending federal troops back into the separatist republic.

Four of the defendants, including Zainutdinov's son, were convicted as accomplices. Magomed Magomedov, 45, and Abdulkadyr Abdulkadyrov, 41, were sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Zainutdin Zainutdinov, 30, and Makhach Abdusamedov, 33, were sentenced to three years behind bars and then released on an amnesty declared last year.

The six defendants, all citizens of Dagestan, a Russian republic on Chechnya's border, stood stone-faced and motionless while the court's decision was announced. Their female relatives fought their way through a chain of police to get closer to the men behind the steel bars of the defendants' cage.

'When I refused to testify against myself, I was beaten by eight people with a bat.'
— Zainutdin Zainutdinov

The younger Zainutdinov said he was beaten during the investigation.

"When I refused to testify against myself, I was beaten by eight people in turn with a bat. They broke a chair against my back and threatened to make me sit on a bottle-neck," Zainutdin Zainutdinov said last week in his final statement before the court. "They kept me as a hostage to get at my father. When the term of my detention finished, they let me out and brought me back in several hours with a packet of heroin in my pocket that they had planted on me."

The suspects were arrested at different times in Dagestan and Azerbaijan. Dagestani investigators, who presented 40 volumes in their case, argued that the six men were carrying out a plan masterminded by Khattab.

Isa Zainutdinov and Salikhov were accused of delivering 5 tons of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder — components of explosives — from Chechnya to Dagestan. They also were accused of setting up two truck bombs and assembling detonators with electronic timers. The GAZ truck that blew up Sept. 4 belonged to Salikhov.

The second bomb was scheduled to go off the following morning, but a Buinaksk resident noticed suspicious wires hanging from the cabin of a ZiL truck parked near a military hospital. Federal Security Service sappers neutralized the bomb, which was equivalent to 2.7 tons of TNT.

The four accomplices were accused of playing a role in purchasing the ZiL and loading both trucks with explosives.

Isa Zainutdinov admitted that he served with Khattab, but said he worked as a cook and did not take part in combat operations. He earlier told the court that he had not known about the planned bombing when he agreed to deliver the chemicals from Khattab's camp in Serzhenyurt to Dagestan. Zainutdinov said he was told the imported chemicals were to be sold in Dagestan for use in paint.

"I and the rest, who didn't know what we were doing, were framed," Zainutdinov said at a previous court hearing. "And I believe that the Russian secret services were fully informed about the transport of explosives from Chechnya to Dagestan."

He claimed that the KamAZ truck used to transported the chemicals — standard components for explosives — was checked several times by police patrols and never aroused suspicion. A man he called Zagid accompanied the KamAZ from Khattab's camp and was the one who spoke to police at the checkpoints.

Security was unusually tight along Chechnya's borders at that time following the invasions into Dagestan by Islamic rebels, some under Khattab's leadership.

The case against the suspected bombers received extraordinary media coverage and public attention in Dagestan. On Monday, a crowd of the suspects' relatives broke a turnstile at the entrance to the Supreme Court building. Policemen used German shepherds to keep the crowd outside. All who were permitted to attend the three-hour sentencing — close relatives and journalists — were meticulously searched before entering the courtroom.

"Your honor, I understand that today you are in a very sensitive position," said Magomed Ibragimov, Abdusamedov's lawyer, addressing Judge Baguzha Unzholov in his final statements. "From one side you are under pressure from society attentively watching over this resonant trial process, and on the other side is the fate of people whose guilt has not been proved by the investigation."

The trial revealed cracks in the investigators' work and nearly half of the initial charges did not hold up, including charges of participating in illegal armed formations and committing a crime using official positions. The defendants had no official positions, which the judge pointed out Monday in criticizing the investigators.

As a result, the defendants received lighter sentences than prosecutors asked for. Two weeks ago, prosecutor Rashitkhan Magomedov demanded the death penalty for Isa Zainutdinov and Salikhov, and 20 to 25 years of imprisonment for the remaining defendants.