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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Basayev Says He Arranged 'Botched' Raid

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev on Monday claimed responsibility for coordinating a series of "botched" attacks in Nalchik last week, and local authorities deliberated whether to turn over the bodies of militants killed in fighting to relatives.

Basayev said that Thursday's attacks, which left well over 100 people dead, most of them militants, were a failure and that a traitor in the militants' ranks had tipped off authorities about a bigger raid he had planned in Kabardino-Balkaria's capital.

Basayev's version of the events, made in a statement posted on a rebel web site, corresponded with accounts given by Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday. Both said the militants had carried out a spontaneous raid after realizing that law enforcement officials were close to capturing them.

"In fact, the bandit underground initiated its actions because we were already chasing them," Nurgaliyev said late Sunday on state-run Channel One television.

He called attacks "an act of desperation."

Nurgaliyev also said that several Islamist militants had been detained in Kabardino-Balkaria in early October and that they had admitted in interrogations that possible terrorist attacks were in the works.

He said he ordered an extensive manhunt for militants in the republic last Monday.

In Nalchik, scores of people continued to wait outside the main city morgue on Monday in the hope that authorities would hand over the bodies of suspected militants. Up to 92 of the raiders have been reported dead, and about 50 of them remained unidentified Monday, Interfax said, citing an unidentified regional law enforcement official. Most of the dead were local residents, ethnic Kabardins and Balkars, the official said.

Authorities are barred from giving the bodies of terrorists to relatives under a law adopted after the 2002 hostage-taking raid on a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels.

Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov acknowledged on Monday that it would be difficult to separate the bodies of militants from those of innocent bystanders.

"I believe that according to the law on terrorism, the bodies of wanted persons who were involved in grave crimes cannot be handed over," Kanokov said, Interfax reported.

He added, however, that "people who were used as cannon fodder" could be among the bodies.

"For this category, we could allow an act of humanity so that cruelty would not engender cruelty," Kanokov said.

Muslim rites demand that the dead be buried as soon as possible, and local traditions make proper burial the collective duty of the family.

Kanokov met with senior local law enforcement officials Monday to discuss what to do with the scores of bodies. It was unclear late in the day what, if anything, they had decided.

Citing relatives of some of the dead, Izvestia and Gazeta reported that police planted ammunition on some civilians killed in the crossfire and then declared them terrorists, apparently to inflate the militant death toll. The reports could not be independently verified.

Kanokov, in an interview published Monday in Kommersant, conceded that a brutal crackdown on Muslim believers had played a role in Islamist insurgency in the republic. "Indeed, there was a certain overkill on the part of law enforcers," he said.

The Kremlin named Kanokov, a Moscow-based businessman, as president last month, and he is the first North Caucasus leader to publicly acknowledge a link between police brutality and religious extremism.

Under Kanokov's predecessor, Valery Kokov, authorities shuttered mosques where independent-minded Muslims gathered and detained scores on suspicion of extremism.

"It will get only worse if we continue to forbid them to pray, close their mosques and force them underground, where it is harder to control them," Kanokov told Kommersant. "This will only harden them. And what is banned always seems to be right to people."

Basayev said in his statement that the militants had not targeted Kanokov because he had ordered the mosques reopened.

Kabardino-Balkarian Prime Minister Gennady Gubin on Monday reiterated earlier official denials that Basayev had played a role in the attacks. "There is no information that Basayev participated in this raid, even indirectly," he said.

The oppression of independent-minded Muslims across the North Caucasus is forcing them to consolidate into a region-wide network of violent insurgents, said Sergei Markedonov, a Caucasus specialist with the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

"This will develop further if the state's policy toward religion remains limited to unequivocally supporting loyal muftis and sending the police after anyone who disagrees," Markedonov said.

Channel One showed footage Monday of a detained suspect being interrogated in Nalchik. The man, who appeared to be in his early 20s, denied he had fought in the name of religion and said he had been offered $2,000 to participate.

Substantive evidence points to the contrary, however. Eyewitnesses and reporters have said many of the dead fighters had the trademark beards of Wahhabis, followers of a violent strain of Islamism. A woman who was held hostage by three attackers for 24 hours told The Associated Press that they frequently spoke of their faith and told her that those who died in the raid would go to heaven.

Contradictory reports were issued Monday about the number of dead militants. Basayev put the figure at 41, Kanokov at 70 and Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov at 92. Earlier reports said 94 had died.

The head of Kabardino-Balkaria's forensic bureau, Azret Mechukayev, said the bodies of 85 attackers remained in Nalchik's morgue on Monday, Interfax reported.

Interfax reported late Monday that 35 law enforcement officials had also died and that the civilian death toll had been revised from 12 to nine.