WARNING: This post, a translation from the website of the Russian human rights organization Memorial, deals with gruesome acts of violence in the war-torn breakaway republic of Chechnya. Following the text is a series of explicit photographs of civilian casualties resulting from a Russian “anti-terrorist” campaign. The photos are very disturbing and all readers are advised to exercise caution in deciding the click the jump and view the entire post. You can read the text without seeing the photographs by scrolling carefully and stopping where the text ends and the photos are marked to begin.
This translation has been prepared by LR staff. As always, corrections are welcome and encouraged.
Hat tip: Reader “Robert.”
Lethal Garlic: More “accidental” fatalities in Ingushetia
February 15, 2010
On February 11-12, 2010, in a forest on the border of Ingushetia and Chechnya, near the Ingush villages of Arshty and Datta, a special military operation was conducted by Russian forces. The government reported on the destruction of a large detachment of rebel fighters and denied that any civilian casualties had occurred. However, on February 12th we began receiving reports that there had in fact been civilians killed, and the next day we visited Arshty. The following day we visited the Achkoi-Martan district in Chechnya. Working with representatives of Human Rights Watch, we interviewed dozens of witnesses. As a result, we can confidently assert that in the region where the operation was carried out were a large number of civilian residents and at least four of them were killed.
The assault carried out by federal forces began with a missile barrage in the early morning hours on February 11th. It continued throughout the day, ceased with the onset of darkness and then resumed the next day at dawn. Federal forces initially reported that the cadre of rebel fighters numbered 15-25, and it was reported that from half to nearly all of them had been killed. The President of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, visited the area on February 12th and claimed that 18 rebels had been killed. A list of various wanted figures was given by Ingushetia’s Prosecutor Yury Turygin as having been killed in the attack.
But we learned on February 12th that among those killed were also civilians who had been in the nearby woods gathering wild garlic, and the reports we received were confirmed by the president’s press secretary in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio, where he stated: “During the course of the special operation about 70 local residents were evacuated from the woods where they had been collecting wild garlic, but unfortunately four of them came under fire and were killed.” The president did not include these victims with the 18 persons killed in the raid. [Story reported in English by RIA Novosti on February 13th here.]
To see for ourselves, Memorial staff left for Arshty on the afternoon of February 13th. The villagers confirmed that there had been civilian casualties, including children. On the south-eastern outskirts of Arshty Memorial was shown the bodies of seven adults, six wrapped in sleeping bags, perhaps to identify the remains of militant fighters.
Representatives of Memorial and Human Rights Watch interviewed several dozen witnesses, including relatives of the victims and those who had miraculously survived the onslaught. In doing so, we managed to clarify the circumstances of the civilian casualties and learn why the civilians were in the area of the attack when it occurred.
On February 10th and 11th a large group of local residents (numbering about 200) left the village aboard buses and trucks to collect wild garlic in the surrounding forest. They had obtained in advance written permission from the local government to make this trip for this purpose. Our representatives viewed this document on the official letterhead of the district administration.
On February 11th, according to witness Adlan Mutayev, four individuals (Shamil Katev, age 19; Movsar Tataevym, age 22; Arbi Mutayev, age 20; and his brother Adlan, age 18) came under automatic weapons fire as they exited the forest with bags full of wild garlic. Shamil and Movsar were wounded, while the two brothers fled. Wounded in the leg, Adlan concealed himself in a ditch and when the Russian forces approached, he was not noticed. He spent two days hiding out in the forest until he was finally rescued by local residents, having contracted frostbite. Arbi also attempted to hide, but was apprehended by Russian forces, heavily armed men of Slavic appearance wearing camouflage uniforms. The brought him back to the place where his two comrades were lying wounded and ordered him to move the bodies, according to Arbi. Shamil begged the soliders not to kill him. Unable to lift his friends, Arbi pulled his cap down over his eyes and then heard shots being fired. The soldiers then left the two corpses lying in the snow and carried Arbi away with them, torturing him in the woods for two days before releasing him.
A group of 13 local residents then formed as search party and combed the woods for missing family members. They discovered the corpses of Shamil and Movsar as well as Ramzan Susaev (aged 41) and Movsar Dakhaev (aged 18).
Shamil’s body had multiple gunshot wounds to the forehead. His passport, mobile phone, and written permission to collect wild garlic had been taken from his pockets. The young man had been collecting produce to sell in the hopes of having enough money to pay his electric bill. He lived in abject poverty with his father and four siblings, the youngest being just 10 months old.
Movsar’s body had three gunshot wounds and multiple stab wounds, including in the back and groin consistent with a ritualistic killing. Relatives paid for his funeral, because the family could not afford it.
Ramzan Susayev, according to his family, was shot in the chest. He also had a broken back and a broken left hand, and gunshot wound on the right side. His brother was a member of the 13-man search party, and found him lying next to a bag full of wild garlic and his hoe, used to gather them. The bag was also photographed. His relatives stated that a representative of the Prosecutor’s office appeared at the funeral and photographed the body.
Movsar Dakhayev had three bullet wounds in the back. It was his first trip into the woods to collect wild garlic, and he had begged his mother to let him go. He had a photograph of himself taken with his cell phone, which survived the attack.
A fifth villager, Mair-Ali Bakhayev (aged 45), is still missing. His fate is unknown.
The soldiers have claimed that warnings were given in advance that the special operation would take place, but none of the villagers admitted to hearing them. The head of the local government, by contrast, claimed that the warnings were only given en route to the forest at checkpoints. The villagers denied hearing any warnings at any checkpoints, and said that no sounds of battle were heard in the forest until fire was directly opened upon them, from ambush at close range.
The press secretary of the president of Ingushetia, Kaloi Akhilgov, claimed that no reports of missing persons resulted from the special operation, but in fact the villagers submitted at least six such reports about persons who never returned from the forest. The list of victims compiled by Memorial may well be incomplete, our research was not exhaustive.
We conclude that the persons killed did not perish as a result of accidental incidents or firing from helicopter gunships, and there is no evidence of militants using such persons as human shields as was reported by RIA Novosti. It is clear from an examination of the bodies that they were shot at close range, stabbed, and may have received the coup de grace. We conclude a formal investigation should occur, and not only as to the reasons for these murders but also as to why hundreds of innocent people were placed in mortal danger. Our activists will continue our own investigation.