Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South Russia faces nearly daily attacks from Islamic extremists seeking to create an independent Muslim state in the country's Caucasus regions, and Moscow is cracking down. Ingushetia, a Russian republic racked by corruption and poverty, is at the center of the violence.
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Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South

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Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South

Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South

Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112854792/112861634" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A policeman guards the site of an explosion in Nazran, Ingushetia, in August. A truck packed with explosives rammed through the gates of a police compound, killing at least 16 and wounding dozens. The act is among a string of recent attacks in Ingushetia, a restive republic in Russia's southern Caucasus region. Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images

A policeman guards the site of an explosion in Nazran, Ingushetia, in August. A truck packed with explosives rammed through the gates of a police compound, killing at least 16 and wounding dozens. The act is among a string of recent attacks in Ingushetia, a restive republic in Russia's southern Caucasus region.

Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is facing growing violence in Muslim regions on its southern rim. Islamic extremists seeking to create an independent Muslim state in the Caucasus regions are attacking security forces and officials on an almost daily basis.

In turn, the authorities are cracking down with illegal abductions, torture and disappearances.

Russia's republic of Ingushetia, racked by corruption and poverty, is at the center of the new violence. An overwhelming majority of its population of about 350,000 is Muslim, and its people have close historical and cultural ties to neighboring Chechnya, another restive Russian republic where Moscow has fought two wars since the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russia's Caucasus Regions

Locator map pointing out the Chechnya and Ingushetia regions of Russia

Magomed Mutsulgov, the head of Mashr, an Ingush human rights group, says Moscow's brutal and illegal crackdown on suspected terrorists is only making the situation worse.

"Unlike Chechnya, we had no history of terrorist acts. But after 2003, when Moscow began going after suspected fighters here, using illegal means like disappearances, killings and torture, the bombings and attacks began," he says.

Increasingly, Mutsulgov says, security forces are now going after relatives and friends of suspected fighters.

"The more the authorities kill, the more killing there will be. It's getting easier to recruit young men to fight the authorities in the name of justice and revenge," he says.

More than 50 percent of the Ingush are unemployed. There is rampant corruption and a sense that Moscow doesn't care about anything but counterterrorism.

A year ago, police detained leading investigative journalist and opposition figure Magomed Yevloyev, who was subsequently fatally shot while in custody. The police say it was a mistake; investigations by human rights groups and the family suggest otherwise.

His killing underscored deep discontent. Moscow decided to replace the unpopular Ingush leader with a new president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a former general. While committed to fighting terrorism, Yevkurov promised this would be done according to the law.

Yevkurov also promised to crack down on corruption and adopt a more conciliatory tone toward the opposition. He has publicly said he believes Yevloyev was murdered. He has tried to reopen the case, but there has been little progress.

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the president of Ingushetia, speaks Aug. 22 at the site of the police compound attack in Nazran. He vowed no mercy in fighting a bloody Islamist insurgency as he returned to Ingushetia two months after being badly wounded in an assassination attempt. Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the president of Ingushetia, speaks Aug. 22 at the site of the police compound attack in Nazran. He vowed no mercy in fighting a bloody Islamist insurgency as he returned to Ingushetia two months after being badly wounded in an assassination attempt.

Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images

The president regularly meets with human rights groups and the opposition.

"Mistakes are made. There is [an] enormous amount of corruption," Yevkurov said last week to a gathering of human rights activists and families of the victims of violence.

Human rights activists applaud Yevkurov for acknowledging these problems and say that has been at least a step in the right direction. But Mutsulgov, of the Ingush human rights group Mashr, says the president's promised changes have been undermined repeatedly by federal security forces.

"There are improvements. Yevkurov is not corrupt. He is approachable. But as far as security forces are concerned, he can't change the situation. He has not power to control them," Mutsulgov says.

In June, Yevkurov himself was the victim of an attack that has yet to be solved. A suicide bomber in a car swerved into his motorcade; Yevkurov was gravely wounded and spent most of the summer recovering.

In his absence, human rights groups say the security forces stepped up their illegal detentions and killings of suspects. Courts convicted several officials of stealing millions of dollars, but to Yevkurov's dismay, they were given nothing but a slap on the wrist.

Now back on the job, Yevkurov faces a desperate and angry population.

An Ingush mother, Fatima Tankieva, says her son disappeared after he was picked up by security forces. She has appealed to Yevkurov for help.

Maksharip Aushev, a prominent opposition figure, has supported Yevkurov, but he says he is losing hope.

"We succeeded in changing the president, but orders are still coming from Moscow. It doesn't depend on Yevkurov. So people are taking up arms against the government. They see no choice," Aushev says.

Musa Pliev, one of Yevkurov's aides, warns that Ingushetia is facing a civil war.

"If Moscow thinks the problems here can be solved with these illegal violent acts, they are very wrong," Pliev says.

Yevkurov still enjoys a reservoir of goodwill, but Ingush warn that time is running out.