MAKHACHKALA, August 10. /TASS/. A counter-terrorist operation has been launched today in the Untsukulsky district of Dagestan, a representative of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee’s (NAC) operational headquarters in the republic told TASS on Monday.
"The [counter-terrorist] operation was launched at 5:30am Moscow time with the aim of searching for and neutralizing militants," the representative said.
The last large-scale anti-terrorist operation was carried out in Dagestan at the beginning of July. Two gunmen, members of the so-called Kizlyar gang involved in plotting terrorist attacks last autumn, were neutralized as a result of shooting and pursuit which lasted almost 24 hours.
The Dagestan Republic is part of the North Caucasus Federal District. It also comprises Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Chechnya, North Ossetia and the Stavropol Territory.
Reports that have been arriving from Dagestan over the past few months look pretty much like frontline wires: accounts of security sweeps against underground Islamic militant groups have been pouring in alongside news of arrests of high-level republican officials. Just recently, police put under arrest the chief of the Buinaksk district’s administration, Daniyal Shikhsaidov. He is suspected of embezzling budget funds. Last July the chief of the Russian Pension Fund’s Dagestani branch, Sagid Murtazaliyev and head of the Kizlyar district, Andrey Vinogradov, faced charges of complicity in a murder and the financing of terrorism.
"The growing terrorist activity makes the situation still worse. Dagestan over the past few years has firmly held number one place in the North Caucasus as to the scale of activity by underground militant groups", - the chief of the Caucasus Studies Centre at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Artur Atayev, told TASS. "Some Dagestani officials had connections with the undercover gangs. This is a hard fact. It is seen in the arrest of a number of members of Dagestan’s legislative assembly members and the mayor of Makhachkala. Salafi mosques are still operating openly and expensive vehicles belonging to local officials can be regularly seen at the car parks nearby. The percentage of Salafites who make no secret of their attitude to the federal authorities is very large," Atayev said. Of late, ever more field commanders preferred to vow allegiance not the Imarat Kavkaz group, but straightly to the Islamic State, which is prohibited in Russia.
According to the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, 243 gunmen were neutralized in Russia last year, including 38 chieftains, 644 militants and their henchmen were detained. Security forces conducted 74 counter-terrorism operations in the North Caucasus , seizing 272 home-made explosives and a significant number of firearms, with 219 criminals becoming subject to criminal penalties.
The most large-scale activities came in 1999, when gunmen of warlords Shamil Basayev and Khattab attacked a settlement in Dagestan's Botlikh region in August, killing 73 people and wounding 259. A month later some 2,000 Shamil Basayev's gunmen crossed the administrative border between Chechnya and Dagestan, occupying several settlements in the Novolaksky district. All terrorists were killed, but federal losses amounted to 243 people.