Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Dagestan reels from spate of cop-killings

PAYBACK Attacks against police officers have been on the rise in the last two years, in response to the Russian government's anti-extremism and anti-terrorism campaign


Residents of the capital of the poor and chaotic Russian province of Dagestan have come to call it "the hunt for cops" -- more than two years of bold and brutal attacks on police.

Who's conducting it, what the motives are and even if it's a coordinated campaign are unknown. But the violence proceeds. On Friday, 11 police troops were killed when their truck was blown up as it pulled up to a public bath house.

Colonel Akhberdilav Akilov was one of the first to feel the fury of the attacks. In September 2002, as his car approached his office at the regional police headquarters, masked gunmen in a passing car opened fire from Kalashnikov assault rifles, instantly killing the head of the police's anti-extremism and anti-terrorism department. The assailants, who also killed Akilov's driver and a passer-by, made a safe getaway.

The bold, daylight killing was seen as a reflection of the high level of everyday violence in the mostly Muslim Dagestan region, which borders on Chechnya. But it also marked the opening salvo in what has become a long series of murders specifically targeting police in Dagestan, a mountainous region of numerous small ethnic groups bordering the Caspian Sea.

Six officers from Akilov's department were killed in the three months following his murder; 26 police officers have been killed in gun and bomb attacks this year alone in "the hunt for cops."

The motives behind the attacks are unclear. Some blame the killings on Islamic militants working in cahoots with Chechen rebels attacking military targets while others say the violence could be rooted in rivalry between some of Dagestan's clans and ethnic groups.

Still others, including some prosecuted for the crimes, say the attacks are revenge for unbridled police brutality.

"I did not kill your son," suspect Gadzhi Abidov told the parents of a murdered police officer during a court hearing last year, before he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing.

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