Novaya Gazeta Reports Point-Blank Execution of Chechen ‘Attackers’ at Odds with Official Account of ‘Clash’ with National Guards

March 25, 2017
Photo by National Anti-Terrorist Committee said to be from scene of 'clashes' between Islamist militants and National Guardsmen in Chechen March 23-24, 2017.

Novaya Gazeta Reports Point-Blank Execution of Chechens at Odds With Official Account of ‘Clash’ With National Guards

Photo of Chechen reported to have been executed obtained by Novaya Gazeta from a law-enforcement source.

When Russian media reported March 24 that 6 National Guardsmen and 6 militants were killed in a “shoot-out” in Chechnya, it was a typical story with scant details. Interfax quoted the statement of Rosgvardiya, the new National Guard created by President Vladimir Putin last year in place of the Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops and certain other police agencies. TASS reported tersely that “six militants were liquidated in an attempt to attack an army base in Chechnya.”

According to the TASS story, “a group of armed bandits” tried to “penetrate the grounds” of a National Guard base when the weather was very foggy. But National Guardsmen intercepted and “destroyed” them — although in the process, TASS added, “six soldiers were killed in the clash.” That was all — some investigators were said to be sent to the region from Moscow and police were busy looking for two of the militants who got away. The photo with the story seemed artfully arranged — a rifle and a fallen National Guardsman’s cap.

SITE Intelligence Group, the organization monitoring extremists and terrorists reported that ISIS had taken responsibility for the attack. Russian media had no other sources than SITE for this claim.

On his Instagram account, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he met in Grozny with Lt. Gen. Sergei Melikov, deputy director of the National Guard, who he said had come to express condolences to the families of the slain officers and praise the Chechen response. Kadyrov said he and Melikov were “united in the opinion” that “Western intelligence” was responsible for the attack, claiming that it was planned and carried out by forces supported by Western countries in Syria.

Kadyrov said his side was prevailing; “we have won the war with them and destroyed thousands” and urged the Kremlin to send more forces to Syria to “destroyed them in their lair.”

But Yelena Milashina, an expert on the North Caucasus for Novaya Gazeta, an independent news site, has reported today (warning: graphic) March 25 that they have evidence that the militants were in fact apprehended alive, then executed point-blank with bullets to the head, not killed in a “clash”. Evidently some of the police investigators have leaked photos of the scene, as Novaya Gazeta has published two very graphic photos of young Chechens, each with bullet wounds near their ears; one also shows a welt around his wrist as if from a handcuff, and has what appear to be explosives taped around his body — which Novaya Gazeta believes was done after he was killed.

This latest clash involved one of the largest number of police killed since December 2014, when a group of militants took over the press building in Grozny and then later a school. At that time, fourteen policemen, 11 militants and one civilian in the press building were killed; 36 other policemen were wounded.

In January, the forces of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov killed 4 Islamist militants and arrested dozens more. A video was released that seemed strangely choreographed. Kadyrov was careful to show that clash not as an attack to which law-enforcers responded, as in past incidents, but an operation to round up suspected terrorists planned in advance.  He claimed a close relative of Isa Muskiev, a suspected militant commander killed by Russian forces in 2006, had received orders “from abroad” to begin actively creating a network of fighters. The claim was made that the men were all “ISIS fighters” but no evidence was shown, and some were quite young. At that time Chechen leaders also threatened Caucasian Knot, the leading independent news site for the region.

While Kadyrov has continued to insist that he is keeping terrorism in Chechnya under control, which human rights groups say is done with ruthless methods involving numerous cases of kidnapping, torture, and killing, the number of such terrorist attacks appears to have increased in recent years, along with Chechen involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria.

The Novaya Gazeta story indicates there is a lot we don’t know about these clashes. The following is a full translation of Milashina’s article, titled ‘Chinese Execution’ in Naurskaya, by The Interpreter:

According to the official version confirmed by the National Guard press service, on the night of March 23-24, six residents of the village of Naurskaya (their identities have been established) attacked army base no. 3761. During the “shoot-out,” the attackers were liquidated, six soldiers of the National Guard were killed, and three wounded. 
However, the official version of the attack on the National Guard unit deployed in Naurskaya elicits major doubts. Novaya Gazeta has obtained unretouched photos of the Chechens who allegedly were killed during the “clashes”. These photographs were made at the scene of the incident by one of the members of the investigation operations group. In the photographs, it can be clearly seen that the “attackers” were all murdered practically by an identical method — a shot to the head.
Novaya Gazeta showed these photos to forensics experts, criminologists, and ballistics experts. The specialists interviewed had no contradictions in their judgements about the nature and methods by which the wounds were inflicted. The specialists confirmed that the people in the photographers were executed virtually point-blank; all of those killed had entry bullet wounds located in the area of their ears.

A former law-enforcer who served in Chechnya put it more categorically. He commented on the photographs as follows: “It’s a typical Chinese execution.”

This is the term that both sides in the Chechen campaigns [of the 1990s–The Interpreter] used to describe the execution of POWs (by analogy with the public executions in China, in which two features were characteristic: the mass nature and methods of the murder of the victims, who were kneeling, and the executioner shooting them in the head, usually in the back of the head).

On the bodies of the Chechens who supposedly “attacked” base no. 3761, there aren’t any other bullet wounds besides the wounds to the head,  These photographs virtually disavow the reports of clashes that took place the night of March 23-24 and testify that at the least, all the “attackers” were detained alive.
Of separate interest is a photograph of a murdered Chechen with a mock-up of an improvised explosive device (IED) on him. (The fact that the IEDs were fake was officially confirmed by the National Anti-Terrorist Committee)
On his left wrist can clearly be seen an even, fresh flow of blood reminiscent in appearance to the strangulating welt from handcuffs. Also clearly visible is that the IED was wound with yellow tape ABOVE fresh stains from the earth, grass and blood on the jacket of the “attacker”. Essentially, that means that the IED was taped on what was already the corpse of the “militant”.
If there was no clash (and the photographs of the murdered Chechens are an objective confirmation of this), then the question arises: what were the circumstances under which nine soldiers were killed or wounded at base no. 3761?
Novaya Gazeta has information about the nature of the wounds of four of the National Guardsmen. Major S. (the editorial office has all the full names) was diagnosed with open cranio-cerebral trauma and lacerations and bruises on the head and face. Senior Lt. S. sustained a gunshot wound to his right buttock; Private I. had a tangential gunshot wound of the knee joint. 
It is also known that at least one of the six National Guardsmen who were killed — Senior Lt. Yermolayev — died of gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach.
But according to an official from the prosecutor’s office who directly took part in examination of the scene of the incident, the Chechens who “attacked” army base no. 3761 were armed only with sticks and knives.

This fact is confirmed by the official dispatches of the National Guard (see photos of documents). That is, the Chechens did not have firearms on them.

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According to the official version of the National Guard, the “attackers” did not manage to penetrate the grounds of the army base and seize soldiers’ weapons. Thus, it is not clear under what circumstances the soldiers of the National Guard suffered gunshot wounds, and who shot them, in fact.

According to Novaya Gazeta’s information, the soldiers who served at no. 3761 are primarily sent from other regions of Russia. According to information from residents of Naurskaya, possibly a conflict took place on ethnic grounds between local Chechens and the soldiers at no. 3761. This could have become the reason for the settling of scores during which the Chechens were detained. Yet this version of the story still does not clarify the circumstatnces of the deaths or wounds of nine Guardsmen.

(Note: a clash between Chechens, Dagestanis and Russian soldiers took place in February 2016).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Note: The Interpreter has lost its funding!

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