Photo and video footage, as well as eyewitness testimony, indicate that the overwhelming majority of the corpses were dressed in civilian clothing and that most were adult men. At least four women were seen among the corpses. The hands and legs of many were bound with wire or cloth, many wore blindfolds, and most also bore gunshot wounds to the stomach, chest, or head. Photo and video footage show that the corpses were in varying stages of decay: on some, the facial features were clear, and skin color was still normal, indicating that they died only weeks before the discovery. Others were little more than a skeleton.
Of those identified, the vast majority had previously been detained and "disappeared" in the custody of Russian troops. Human Rights Watch and Memorial together have gathered details on the detention by federal forces and subsequent "disappearance" of sixteen of the nineteen people whose bodies were identified.20 The detentions and the subsequent "disappearances" of these people followed the exact same pattern as more than one hundred other "disappearance" cases Human Rights Watch has documented since January 2001.21 As of this writing, no information was available on the three other individuals whose bodies had been identified, as neither Memorial nor Human Rights Watch had been able to locate the persons who identified them.
Masked men riding military vehicles took into custody Magomed Magomadov, Said-Rakhman Musaev, and Odes Mitaev in three separate incidents during a December 10, 2000 sweep operation in Raduzhnoe and Dolinskii villages. Their bodies, each of which bore clear signs of summary execution, were found in Dachny village on February 21, 2001.
Between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. on December 10, a convoy of two APCs and four military trucks without identification marks, carrying between sixty and seventy armed and masked men in military uniform, conducted a sweep of Raduzhnoe, Pobedinskoe, and Dolinskii villages. The masked men seized a total of twenty-one people from the villages of Dolinskii and Raduzhnoe that night, including Magomed Magomadov, Odes Mitaev, and Said-Rakhman Musaev.
As the convoy drew near the house of thirty-one-year-old Magomed Magomadov, men in the convoy opened fire on a passenger car, wounding the driver. According to a relative of Magomadov, witnesses told him masked men seized Magomadov when he came out of his house to see what had happened, and drove off toward the highway.22
Odes Mitaev and two friends were returning home that evening when soldiers standing by their APCs detained them at an intersection between the villages of Raduzhnoe and Pobedinskoe. "Vakha Rubaev," an uncle of Mitaev, told Human Rights Watch that he spoke to the friends with whom his nephew was detained after they were released in mid-December 2000.23 The friends told "Rubaev" that they initially thought the APCs belonged to the OMON unit from Ufa (the capital of Bashkortostan, a republic of the Russian Federation) that was deployed in the village, with whom villagers apparently had good relations. However, when they drove up to the APCs, the soldiers grabbed them, pulled them out of their car and took them away.24 According to the young men who were later released, the soldiers drove first to Grozny and then Khankala on back roads.
"Alvi Dadaev," a relative of Said-Rakhman Musaev, told Human Rights Watch that Said-Rakhman left home on December 10, 2000; "Dadaev" assumed he would stay with his sister's family that night. However, the next day, "Dadaev" learned that Said-Rakhman had been detained on the road near the village of Raduzhnoe.25
On December 13, 2000, eleven of the twenty-one detainees were released from Russian army custody. Five others were released on December 17. According to Magomadov's relative, the sixteen former detainees told people from the three villages that they had been detained at the Khankala military base in pits that were covered by tents. Those released on December 17 confirmed that Magomadov, Musaev, and Mitaev were still at Khankala. Two days later, two more of the twenty-one detainees were dropped off in Gikalo village. These villagers, according to the relative, said that Magomadov and Musaev had been separated from the others reportedly because they were observing Ramadan and would not accept water when it was offered to them. It was not clear where Mitaev was at this point. The relative said that all eighteen men who had been released alleged they had been severely beaten.
For more than two months, the families of Magomadov, Musaev, and Mitaev had no information on their fate or whereabouts. On February 21, 2001-after receiving news of a possible sighting of the bodies of the three at the mass dumping ground at Dachny village-the relatives traveled to the site and found the corpses of their relatives.26
All three bodies bore signs of summary execution. According to two eyewitnesses, all three men had their hands tied behind their backs and were blindfolded.27 Magomadov's relative said that "all [three] had been shot in the stomach area, there were wounds on their shoulders, in the heart area, and all had been shot in the head." He also said that the three had also clearly been beaten on the head. He also believed that "bones on the extremities of their arms and legs were broken."28
Mitaev's body was also bore marks of torture. "Vakha Rubaev" described his body as follows:
His right ear was cut off and two fingers were cut off. . . . When we took off his sweater, and examined him, we found two stab wounds in his stomach area . . . There was also a shot wound to the back of thehead. Thank God-if one can say that-animals had not touched him because his body was covered by clothes.
An army APC carrying about twenty armed and masked men in camouflage raided Grozny's northern market on Mozdokskaia Street at around 9:00 a.m. on June 3, 2000. The masked men detained Nura Lulueva, a forty-year-old mother of four children, her cousins Markha and Raisa Gakaeva, Aset Elbuzdukueva, and another six to eight people, most of them women.29 The masked men loaded them onto the APC, pulled bags over their heads, and drove away.
Said-Alvi Luluev, Nura Lulueva's husband, arrived at the market several hours after the sweep and talked to numerous eyewitnesses.30 A judge, Luluev told Human Rights Watch that everyone, including Chechen police officers from the local precinct, found the raid puzzling, as apparently nothing extraordinary had happened at the market that morning. Luluev said that when local police-informed by eyewitnesses-came to the market and asked the masked men for an explanation, one apparently flashed an ID and told the police "not to interfere." The masked men subsequently fired toward the police officers and drove away. Human Rights Watch does not know if anyone was wounded.
According to Luluev, his wife and her cousins had been selling strawberries at the market. He said that such small-scale trade provided his family with vital income, as he had been unemployed since 1997, when the Chechen government introduced Sharia law. All three women lived in Gudermes, but apparently traveled to Grozny on a regular basis.31
Luluev approached all of the law enforcement agencies, including the temporary police department, the procuracy, and the Federal Security Service (referred to in Russian by the acronym FSB) on a regular basis to find out who carried out the raid and where his wife was taken. However, each of these agencies said they had not carried out the detention of his wife and denied that any special operation had taken place that day at the northern market in Grozny.
According to Luluev, his brother-in-law learned on March 4, 2001 by word of mouth that dead bodies had been discovered at Dachny village.32 He visit the MChS base that same day and identified his sister and their two cousins among the corpses. The three bodies were buried that same evening in the village of Noibera near Gudermes.33 According to Memorial, relatives identified Elbuzdukueva's body at the MChS base on March 8, 2001.
Little is known about the conditions of the bodies of the four women. Luluev told Human Rights Watch that according to Nura Luluev's brother the bodies of Nura Lulueva and her two cousins were in an advanced stage of decomposition and were identified by earrings and clothing. The women had blindfolds over their eyes, but the exact cause of death was not evident. Memorial did not report any details on the conditions of Elbuzdukueva's body.
On December 9, 2000, a car bomb exploded in Alkhan-Yurt, reportedly killing nineteen civilians and wounding another twenty-one.34 At around 1:00 a.m. on December 10, federal troops came to the Riskhanov and Timarov homes in Alkhan-Yurt and detained, respectively, Rustam and Ramzan Riskhanov, and Tasu Timarov. In both cases, the detaining soldiers said they were conducting identification checks in relation to the bombing.
A relative of Tasu Timarov told Human Rights Watch that she heard a knock on the door of their home at 1:00 a.m. on December 10.35 When she opened the door, a masked man in camouflage uniform walked in and told her to be quiet. The man sat her down on her bed and moments later, she said, some twenty-five masked men were in the house and forced her, Timarov, and his sister to lie down on the floor. After asking Timarov for his last name, the masked men led him away, reportedly saying "we will clarify everything, and then release him." After they left the house the relative ran outside and saw numerous APCs and other military vehicles on the street corners. They all drove away at the same time.
A relative of Rustam and Ramzan Riskhanov said she woke up at 1:00 a.m. when a flashlight was shone in her face.36 When she opened her eyes, she saw four soldiers-all dressed in military uniforms and not wearing masks. After taking Ramzan Riskhanov outside, one of the soldiers asked the relative for his documents. Then the soldiers broke down the door of the room where Rustam Riskhanov and his family were sleeping, and told him to get dressed and to bring his documents. The relative told Human Rights Watch she pleaded with the soldiers not to "come in the nighttime like robbers" but to come back during daytime. The soldiers took both men away.
In subsequent weeks, relatives of the three men inquired about their whereabouts with Gaidar Gajiev, the Urus-Martan military commander, Ivan Babichev, commander of the United Group of Forces in Chechnya, the mayor of Urus-Martan, and many others, to no avail. In late February 2001, a man from the village of Dolinskii told the relatives that he had been detained in a pit together with the three men for a few days in mid-December 2000. The man-who said they had been blindfolded the entire time-believed they had been held at Khankala military base as they had constantly heard the noise of helicopters above them. The relatives did not know how the three men were treated there.
The relative of Rustam and Ramzan Riskhanov told Human Rights Watch that on March 6, 2001 another relative identified and brought the bodies home from the MChS base in Grozny. Earlier that day she had met with Vsevolod Chernov, procurator of Chechnya, seeking information on the whereabouts of the two. She told Human Rights Watch:
It was almost impossible to look at them, they were severely tortured. Their legs were broken, their backs were cut up with knives, [Rustam's] neck was cut. [Rustam's body] bore more wounds than [Ramzan's]. His neck had been cut with some kind of zig-zag blade . . . Both had been shot through both shoulders. Both had their hands tied, Ramzan with rope and Rustam with some kind of cloth, it was fastened very tight.37
The relative also said that both men were relatively clean shaven, suggesting that they were killed soon after they were detained. Timarov's relative told Human Rights Watch that Tasu Timarov had been scalped.38
On January 20, 2001, Islam Tazurkaev was traveling by car with several Chechen policemen to his home in Novye Aldi, Grozny. At a checkpoint on Minutka Square, Russian troops stopped the car, checked the passports of the passengers, and detained Tazurkaev. A relative of Tazurkaev spoke to several eyewitnesses of the detention who told him that the soldiers pulled a bag over Tazurkaev's head and drove him away toward the Khankala military base in an APC without identification marks.39
In subsequent days and weeks, Tazurkaev's relative, mother, and sister actively searched for him to no avail. On March 5, 2001, when they learned that bodies discovered at Dachny village were laid out in Grozny, Tazurkaev's mother traveled to the MChS base to examine them; she identified her son's body that day. The next day, after bringing papers confirming his identity, the family brought his body home for a proper funeral. Tazurkaev's relative told Human Rights Watch the body bore clear marks of torture. He said:
His right leg was broken, he had a broad cut from above his right ear down to just below his neck, there was a similar cut on the left side, the skin was stripped off his shoulder blades, his arms were broken, he had been shot straight through the eyes, and there was a big hole in the back of his head where the bullets had exited. . . . . His hands and arms had been burned as well, and his ribs beaten and broken. 40
At approximately 11:00 a.m. on December 23, 2000, Magomed Malsagov and his friend, Umatgeri Edilbekov, left Malsagov's home in Grozny by car, telling relatives they would be back in half an hour. They never returned. The next day, relatives found Malsagov's burned out car at the Novy Avtovokzal in Grozny's October district. People who were selling petrol close by told them that federal troops had stopped the car and had taken the two men away.41 In subsequent days and weeks, relatives of the two men led a fruitless search for them.
On March 3, 2001, relatives of Magomed Malsagov went to the MChS base in Grozny to search for him, and identified the body of Umatgeri Edilbekov. The following next day, they also identified Malsagov's body. Malsagov's relative told Human Rights Watch, "The skin on his scalp had been stripped, he was scalped. . . . His hands were tied behind his back."42
Memorial interviewed Edilbekov's brother and neighbor. The neighbor stated that they could identify Edilbekov's body only by his clothes. He told Memorial that Edilbekov's throat and one cheek had been cut and that several of his nails were missing.43
The Memorial Human Rights Center, which has had a research office in Ingushetia since March 2000, interviewed the relatives of another three people whose corpses were found at Dachny village. In each of these cases, relatives stated that the person had previously "disappeared" in the custody of Russian troops:
* Saikhan Askhabov (age forty). According to information collected by Memorial, federal forces detained Saikhan Askhabov during a sweep operation in Alkhan-Kala on August 14, 2000, where he had been staying as an internally displaced person. His body was identified on February 28, 2001.44
* Nasrudi Dakaev (age twenty-one). Federal soldiers detained Nasrudi Dakaev at his home in Urus-Martan on the night of December 26, 2000. When relatives inquired with law enforcement agencies and military authorities about the whereabouts of Dakaev, his detention was flatly denied. On March 9, 2001, Dakaev's father identified his son's body at the MChS base.45
* Isa Larsanov Masked federal soldiers detained Isa Larsanov at his home in Alkhan-Kala at around 12:00 p.m. on January 17, 2001. Attempts by Larsanov's wife to find her husband led nowhere. When she learned that dead bodies had been discovered at Dachny village, she travelled to the village but was told that several bodies had been taken to the October district police precinct. At that precinct she identified the body of her husband by his clothes. She said that an eye was missing and that his arms and wrists had been burned. She believed he had been tortured with electroshock. She found no stab or gunshot wounds on his body.4620 In its March 2001 report, "The `Dirty War' in Chechnya," Human Rights Watch gave details on the "disappearances" and the discovery of the dead bodies at Dachny village of six civilians: Magomed Magomadov, Said-Rakhman Musaev, Odes Mitaev, Nura Lulueva, Markha Gakaeva and Raisa Gakaeva. See also Memorial Human Rights Center, "Bodies Near Khankala," Appendix 3, March 5, 2001. 21 For a detailed description of this pattern, see Human Rights Watch, "The `Dirty War' in Chechnya," p. 7-22.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Magomed Magomadov, Nazran, March 9, 2001. For testimony from relatives of all three men, see Memorial website, www.memo.ru/hotpoints/N-Caucas/hankala/hankala.htm (accessed March 2001).
23 Human Rights Watch interview with "Vakha Rubaev," March 16, 2001, Nazran.
24 While the identity of the unit that conducted the raid is unknown, it was not run by the Ufa OMON unit. According to a male relative of one of the three, he sought information on his relative's whereabouts, the day after the three "disappeared," from the commander of the Ufa OMON unit. The latter reportedly told the relative that there had been a special operation, not run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with which the OMON unit was not to interfere. However, subsequently the OMON commander denied having said this and any knowledge of such a special operation.
25 Human Rights Watch interview with "Alvi Dadaev" (not his real name), March 16, 2001, Nazran.
26 See for detailed description pages 5-6.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Magomed Magomadov who requested to remain anonymous, Nazran, March 9, 2001; and Human Rights Watch interview with "Vakha Rubaev," March 16, 2001.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Magomed Magomadov who requested to remain anonymous, Nazran, March 9, 2001.
29 Said-Alvi Luluev told Human Rights Watch that he was able to establish the name of only one other person, Zavalu Tazurkaev, who was also seized in the incident. Human Rights Watch has no information on his fate. Memorial Human Rights Center interviewed a relative of Aset Elbuzdukueva in March 2001. Memorial Human Rights Center, "Bodies Near Khankala," March 5, 2001.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with Said-Alvi Luluev, Moscow, October 19, 2000.
32 Human Rights Watch interview with Said-Alvi Luluev, Moscow, March 12, 2001.
34 "Car bombing kills 19 civilians in Chechnya," Associated Press, December 10, 2000.
35 Human Rights Watch interview, Nazran, March 13, 2001. Unless otherwise indicated, all information about the detention of Tasu Timarov comes from this interview.
36 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Rustam and Ramzan Riskhanov who asked to remain anonymous, Nazran, March 13, 2001, Nazran.
38 Human Rights Watch interviews with a relative of Tasu Timarov who asked to remain anonymous, March 13, 2001, Nazran.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Islam Tazurkaev, Nazran, March 2001.
41 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Magomed Malsagov, March 13, 2001, Nazran.
43 See excerpts from interviews with Ramzan Edilbekov and Salman Kurbanov at: http://www.memo.ru/hr/
44 See Memorial's materials on the mass dumping ground at: http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/
45 Salamu Dakaev, the father of Nasrudi, first appealed to Memorial for help locating his son on January 22, 2001. On March 11, 2001, a Memorial employee interviewed him in Urus-Martan about the discovery of his son's body. See excerpts from the interview at: http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/N-Caucas/hronics/hr0103/m0103091.htm (accessed May 2001).
46 A Memorial researcher interviewed Isa Larsanov's relative in Alkhan-Kala in March 2001.