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

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Russia is facing growing violence in its Muslim regions in the South. Islamist extremists are launching attacks on an almost daily basis. They're seeking to create an independent Muslim state. In turn, the Russian authorities are cracking down with illegal abductions, torture and disappearances. NPR's Anne Garrels traveled to Ingushetia, just the West of Chechnya. It is wracked by corruption and poverty and it lies at the center of the new violence.

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

Mr. MAGOMED MUTSULGOV (Head, Mashr): (Through translator) Unlike Chechnya, we had no history of terrorist acts. But after 2003, when Moscow began going after suspected fighters here using illegal means, the bombings and attacks began.

GARRELS: He says, increasingly, security forces are now going after relatives and friends of suspected fighters.

Mr. MUTSULGOV: (Through translator) The more the authorities kill, the more killing there will be. It's easier to recruit young men to fight the authorities in the name of justice and revenge.

GARRELS: Well over 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, Magomed Yevloyev, a leading investigative journalist and opposition figure, was detained by police and subsequently shot while in custody. The police said 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.

He 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's tried to reopen the case, but there's been little progress. President Yevkurov regularly meets with human rights groups, families, as well as the opposition.

Mr. YUNUS-BEK YEVKUROV (President, Ingushetia): (Through translator) Mistakes are made. I made no secret of it. There is enormous amount of corruption.

GARRELS: He's applauded for acknowledging all this. That's been at least a step in the right direction. But human rights activist Mutsulgov says his promised changes have been repeatedly undermined by federal security forces.

Mr. MUTSULGOV: (Through translator) 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 no power to control them.

GARRELS: In June, Yevkurov himself was the victim of an attack which is 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.

Ms. FATIMA TANKIEVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Fatima Tankieva has appealed to him. Her son recently disappeared after he was picked up by security forces. Maksharip Aushev, a prominent opposition figure, has supported Yevkurov, but he says he's losing hope.

Mr. MAKSHARIP AUSHEV: (Through translator) 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.

GARRELS: Musa Pliev, one of Yevkurov's aides, warns Ingushetia is facing a Civil War.

Mr. MUSA PLIEV (Aide to Yevkurov): (Through translator) If Moscow thinks the problems here can be solved with these illegal violent acts, they are very wrong.

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

Ann Garrels, NPR News, Nazran, Ingushetia.

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