Russia Update: Leader of Terrorist Group Killed in FSB Raid in Dagestan; 160 Militants ‘Liquidated’ This Year

December 28, 2015
Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), speaking at a joint meeting of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee and Federal Operations Headquarters on December 15, 2015. Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev for RIA Novosti

Live Updates: Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry killed a leader of a terrorist group in Dagestan today during a raid, bringing the total killed this year to 160.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Moscow Judge Approves Investigators’ Appeal Not to Define Opposition Leader Nemtsov’s Murder as Political Assassination

Judge Artur Karpov of Moscow’s Basmanny Court has pronounced lawful the refusal of investigators to re-define the murder of Boris Nemtsov from “murder” to “attempt on the life of a state or civic figure,” a more serious offense, reported, citing Interfax.
This reflects a shift from an earlier tacit acknowledgement by President Vladimir Putin in “calling for an end to political murder” that Nemtsov’s murder was a politically-motivated assassination. Nemtsov was murdered February 27 outside the Kremlin walls on the eve of an anti-war march he was to have led. Five Chechens have been arrested as accomplices in the murder, although the organizer, a Chechen commander of the Interior Ministry’s troops in Chechnya, is said to have fled Russia.
The suit urging the re-qualification of the murder as one involving “a state or civic figure” was filed by Vadim Prokhorov on behalf of Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemstova.
An investigator who testified at the proceeding said that while the investigation had looked at different motives, it rejected a motive related to his public activity (translation by The Interpreter):

During the investigation, it was reliably established that the murder of Nemtsov is in no way related to his government or political, civic activity.

 Interfax cited a source within law-enforcement that:

“in accordance with Art. 227 of the Criminal Code,, the attempt on the life of a political or civic figure must be made with the purpose of ending that activity.

The source acknowledged that the investigation had not formally established a motive:

That question hung, since the organizers of the murder are not yet established.

A source within law-enforcement told RBC that next week, the Investigative Committee will complete its investigation of Nemtsov’s murder, after which the indicted may familiarize themselves with the materials of the case.

Nemtsova vowed to keep appealing the decision. Prokhorov said in a statement:

It’s deplorable, from a civic perspective, no matter your attitude toward the opposition, that you have to prove the existence of a motive related to his [Nemtsov’s] political activity for the murder of one of the leaders of the opposition, given the absence of any other reasons.

Prokhorov said the court only looked at procedural issues and did not analyze the investigation’s actions. He noted that even the government’s original thesis for the murderers’ motive — anger at Nemtsov’s defense of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists killed by terrorists in Paris in January — would still qualify as “political and civic activity” and grounds for the more severe definition. Investigators appear to have dropped that theory but no official statements on the course of the murder investigation have been made. Said Prokhorov:

The Russian authorities are essentially politicizing the process, trying in every way not to mention his [Nemtsov’s] civic and political activity. We will mention this when we appeal to the European Court of Human Rights with additions to our complaint there already registered.

Putin recently authorized Russian judges no longer to heed the decisions of the ECHR. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Leader of Terrorist Group Killed in Law-Enforcement Raid in Dagestan; 160 Militants ‘Liquidated’ This Year
Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry killed a leader of a terrorist group in Dagestan today during a raid, RIA Novosti reported, citing the FSB’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC). The killing brings the total of militants killed this year to 160.
The militant was said to be Shamil Nurmagomedov, head of the Sogratl group, named for the town in Dagestan. Nurmagomedov has been wanted by federal authorities for the murder of civilians and an attack on a police convoy in May 2014. According to the NAC press release (translation by The Interpreter):

Five kilometers north west of the village of Batsad, a bandit was discovered who opened fire on law-enforcement officers during the attempt to detain him. He hid in a shelter, then continued fierce resistance but was neutralized by law-enforcement forces.

In the past decade, Russian forces have killed hundreds of terrorist suspects each year, mainly in the North Caucasus, many from the Caucasus Emirate whose leader Magomed Suleimanov, also known as Abu Usman Gimrinksy, was reportedly killed in August 2015, soon after taking over from Aliaskhab Kebekov, known as Ali Abu Muhammad Al Dagestani, killed by Russian forces in April.

The Caucasus Emirate was said to swear allegiance to ISIS earlier this year, although Abu Usman and Ali Abu Muhammad had worked to stem the tide of defections from their group, Long War Journal reported.

Three militants were killed in Kabardino-Balkaria on December 24, one of whom was said to have trained in Syria. 

At a December 15 joint meeting of the NAC and the Federal Operations Headquarters, FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov said the public supported his agency’s war on terrorists, RIA Novosti reported:

The recent events bear witness to the fact that the measures taken find understanding and support in the majority of citizens of our country.

He said at that time that special services had “liquidated 156 militants” in 2015, including 36 leaders of groups and 20 terrorists” who had sworn allegiance to ISIS. Thus, with the four killings after his speech, the current figure is 160 at year’s end. This figure was lower than in past years, possibly due to the large number of fighters who are reported to have gone to Syria, estimated at 2,700 by the FSB.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick