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There are terrible traffic jams in the center of the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala [1]. The main form of transport is shuttle taxis. Drivers competing for clients cut each other off, overtake in the opposing lane and pretty much ignore all traffic rules. There are way too many shuttle taxis here, but the driver pays a kickback to the city authorities for each "trip," so the powers that be have little interest in reducing the number of shuttle taxis to a relatively sensible figure. Everyone here knows this, with the possible exception of newborn babies.

Corruption in Dagestan long ago reached astounding proportions. The power structures seem to have merged fully with the criminal world. The sandy beaches remain wild and abandoned because starting any large-scale project is simply pointless: they'll ask for money from you before you start making any kind of profit. This seemingly heavenly spot -- the warm sea washes the shore and the beauty of the mountains takes your breath away -- is shivering in poverty and dust.

The traffic is as chaotic and aggressive as the city itself. When they hear the complaints -- "No one drives this appallingly badly anywhere in the Caucasus!"-- Makhachkala residents sniff, though not without pride. They need, after all, to have at least one thing to be proud of.

The locals don't like their city - it is sprawling, clamorous and disfigured by clumsy, ugly buildings. They constantly curse it and their plight in general. There are no jobs to be had. Women make do by selling things. Men work as drivers. They can also go into law enforcement. The pay there is good, but this is a job one might want to think twice about - police officers are being shot by the dozen.

A young dark-haired taxi driver shakes his head: "I served on the police force for four years and then gave it up. Nine of my friends were killed. They have families and small children... It's better to be a driver. It's enough to live on, and that's OK: I don't want my children to be orphans."

"Who killed them, Akhmed?"

He takes a drag on his a cigarette and sighs: "Supposedly Wahhabis [2].... Although who knows. They blame everything on Wahhabis here, even ordinary crimes. If you're an officer they ask you to catch Wahhabis and make them confess.... That means you have to beat them. And you look at this guy and think, he also has a family."

Akhmed's mobile phone rings.  He picks it up, listens and answers something in Avar [3] - something unprintable, judging his tone- and smiles guiltily: "You know, you'll get to your destination more quickly on foot. They've found another bomb around here and the neighboring streets have been cordoned off. We'll be stuck for another hour at least. So, today there's a bomb. Yesterday an officer was shot literally on that corner. And that's how it is every day."

The war between the "Wahhabis" and "authorities" has become an essential part of everyday life.  It's obvious who the "authorities" are: officers of the Interior Ministry and FSB. But the "Wahhabis,"  or "Wahs" or "Vovchiks," as the slang goes, are a much more complicated matter.

In Dagestan Wahhabism is effectively regarded as terrorism, and even, uniquely for Russia, prohibited by law.  This law was passed by the local parliament back in 1999, after the incursion [4] by Shamil Basaev [5] and his followers, which marked the beginning of the "Second Chechen War".   In other words, Wahhabis are perceived as armed Islamic radicals who want to destroy secular government and create a Shariah [6] state in the Caucasus. To the government, they are the chief natural enemy of the state.

On the other hand, there are actually a large number of people who are followers of "pure Islam" (researchers on the issue call them Salafis [7]) in Dagestan.  These are Muslims who preach a return to the five pillars of Islam and do not accept worship of Sufi sheikhs as intermediaries between Muslims and Allah. They are generally not hard to spot, as they have beards and pray at their special mosques. The vast majority of these people do not, of course, roam the mountains with automatic weapons.  They lead ordinary lives. But they are also branded as enemies and harshly persecuted.

The situation is aggravated by a preexisting conflict between the Salafis and the "traditional" Sufi Muslims ("Tariqahs [8]").  In Dagestan acting Sufi [9] sheikhs have many "murids [10]" in government and in law-enforcement enforcement agencies, including in high positions. A murid is a follower obliged to obey his sheikh, and, as experts have noted, the sheikhs do not hesitate to use high-ranking murids to suppress their religious opponents. Being a salafi in Dagestan is dangerous. Men who make themselves visible as Salafis by  wearing Muslim clothes and  long beards create such a threat for themselves and their families that few of the  followers of  "pure Islam" dare to take the risk.

A dark yard on the dirty outskirts of Makhachkala. It's around 10 in the evening.  It's so dark you could easily break your leg in a pothole, and finding the right door is almost impossible. But one of the doors opens, a boy looks out and gestures me to come in. You can't see anything in the entrance, but the lift is unexpectedly working. At the entrance to the apartment there are two girls, ages 7 or 8,  with long dresses to the ground. Their pale, serious faces are framed by hijabs - one white, the other blue. They politely whisper hello, and look at me intensely, not responding to my smile. From the other end of the corridor, their mother emerges with a tiny child in her arms. Her clothes reveal only her hands and her face - from her chin to her eyebrows. She invites me into the room.

It is almost completely empty. There is a rug on the floor and a lonely plastic stool in the corner. A tall, thin man with a short beard sits on the rug, leaning against the wall. His eyes are sunken and he has a tubercular cough. His swarthy, yellowish face is thin and, despite his exhaustion, he looks quite young. Eldar is 25. An hour ago there was an attempt to abduct him.  This was evidently the "sixth department" -- employees of the Extremism and Criminal Terrorism Directorate of the Dagestan Interior Ministry. They won't leave Eldar alone because he is a "Wahhabi." Eldar looks at the guests through half-closed eyes, mumbles a greeting and turns to his wife: "Bring us some tea."

Eldar Navruzov had in fact already been abducted, just over a year ago. On the morning of   March 13, 2008, armed men in camouflage attacked him on the street, dragged him into their car, put a sack over his head, planted a hand grenade in his pocket and drove him to the "sixth department." There Eldar was beaten and tortured for over a day, until he admitted that he was part of a gang of one Vadim Butdaev - Eldar said he found out only later who this Vadim was - and had been attacking policemen. Three days later, a lawyer was finally able to get to Eldar, and he retracted the testimony he had given under torture. But he spent around 11 months in prison on remand, until the charges of attacking employees of the law-enforcement bodies and organizing a criminal society were dropped for complete lack of evidence.

Eldar was released in February this year, and found a job at a building site. He thought he was being followed - he noticed cars driving around outside his home and suspicious people following him. But the charge against him of illegally possessing and carrying a weapon had not been dropped, so he was only freed from custody after he gave a written undertaking not to leave the city. When he will be released from this order, God only knows.

On the evening of  April 22 at around 9 p.m. Eldar was returning home from work. He was on the mobile to his wife, Aisha, telling her he would be home soon, when a silver 99 Lada with Dagestan number plates drove up to him. Two people jumped out of the car and shouted at him to stop. Eldar  ran toward his home, which was very close, shouting to his wife that he was being kidnapped again. The car overtook him, hitting his left leg, but he kept running, because he knew what would happen if he fell down. Another car was waiting for him in the yard, right in front of the entrance.  It was also silver and had tinted windows. Some men tried to drag him into the car. He fought them off, screaming at the top of his voice: "I'm being kidnapped!" The neighbours looked out of their windows. Aisha, along with another family who was visiting her at the time, flung open the door and grabbed hold of Eldar. They also started shouting. This was too much noise and too many witnesses for the "officers," so they abandoned their victim, got into their cars and drove away.

"Until the next time..." Eldar coughs, sipping some dark infusion from a cup. He is curing his tuberculosis with "sunna", i.e. prayers and herbs. He doesn't trust secular medicine. "Inshallah..." Eldar continues, "It was probably the sixth department again. They are the only ones who can kidnap people like me, apart from the FSB and they don't bungle things like that. In any case, there's no letup. They've branded me a Wahhabi. I won't swear oaths to the Sheikhs, I pray directly to Allah, I have a beard, as Allah's messenger said to do.... When I got out of prison in February, my cellmates told me: "Drink, smoke and go to brothels, then no one will touch you. That's the only solution." But I would rather reject my family, although I am prepared to give my life for them, than reject my faith. Others advised me not to leave the house. There were another three men who were in the remand prison on the same charge as me and were released at the same time - we were supposed to be part of a gang. Two of them haven't left the house all these months. The third only goes outside with his relatives, and not very often. But I have to work to feed my children. That's no solution either. I have one weapon against them, the doa - prayer - and Allah has heard my doa. But he won't hear theirs. They don't have a protector, like I do. His will is everything. Allah does not ask of people things they cannot do."

Aisha nods in agreement. Eldar takes the little boy from her, lightly throws him into the air, kisses his forehead and whispers something tender. The girl in the fluffy pink jumpsuit stretches out her arms to her father and laughs.

Nariman Mamedyarov doesn't look anything like the others who are branded "Wahhabis". He has no beard and is dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. He's an ordinary Caucasian guy, who doesn't look his 33 years. Nariman lays tiles for a living. There is enough work for him to feed his wife and children and to rent an apartment in an outlying   district of town. But it's hard for him to work now  - he can't bend his left arm at the elbow properly as the ligament is torn. The doctors say it's too late for an operation. They could try of course. But it's probably pointless - it will just be torture for him. Nariman's arm was injured at the "sixth department." He didn't notice how it happened because that night he was not only beaten, but subjected to electric shock torture. The pain was so great he couldn't feel anything else.

Nariman was taken last year, in the early evening September 25. It happened not far from School No. 57. A car stopped by him, and four "officers" in masks and camouflage jumped out, dragged him into the back seat, and put a black bag over his head. They drove for about half an hour, then threw him to the ground and started beating him. They asked him about Vadim Butdaev, but Nariman had no idea who he was. They gave him electric shocks by connecting up wires to his thumbs.

Then he was pushed into the car again and taken to the division. Nariman realized where he was going, because the sixth department is next to the central mosque, and during the namaz prayers he heard the voice of the muezzin. If he had not heard this, he would not have known where he was as no one took the bag off his head.  The electric shock torture went on all night and his nails were pulled out with pliers. He screamed: "Kill me, I don't know anything! I've never seen this Butdaev! I can't take it anymore." The officers laughed: "After what we do to you, you'll envy the dead! You'll admit to everything!" By morning, he had said he had taken weapons to this mysterious Butdaev, just so they would leave him alone. And he really was left alone. For a few days he lay on the floor with the bag on his head. He was given water twice and taken to the toilet once. He was not given any food at all, but to be quite honest he didn't want any.

Nariman says that on  September 28 he was taken to the police station in Buinaksk. A police chief finally took the bag of his head--  and put an automatic weapon in his hands, so as to put his fingerprints on it. Then he told Nariman to sign a statement that the police officers had found him in the forest, in dirty clothes, with a broken arm and that he had sworn at them. Nariman signed everything because they told him that if he didn't sign it, he would simply be taken into the forest and killed. And the gun would be placed on top of his corpse. It would be a great special operation.

In total, Nariman was given 10 days of administrative arrest [11] for using obscene language. It was cold in the police cell. And he was hardly given any food. But on the first day his arm was put in a cast. And he wasn't beaten. What else could he ask for? Nariman wanted something else - he wanted to go home. He was taken back to Makhachkala after 10 days, and taken to the Leninsky district prosecutor's office.  The investigator said: "Sign here and you'll go straight home. This is a report that you were interrogated as a witness." Nariman said he signed without reading it. He was just very tired, and wanted to go back to his family.

But instead of going home he was taken to the Makhachkala police cells, where a lawyer came to see him.   She told Nariman that he had confessed to supplying weapons to "Butdaev's gang" and, as part of this group, had planned to kill law-enforcement officers. Nariman rejected this testimony.  During the night officers from the "sixth department" came to his cell. They told him that it was not a good idea to go back on his words and beat him up a little to drive the message home. Nariman really didn't want electric shock torture again, so he promised to repeat his testimony. But when the investigator came to see him in the morning, he decided not to do this. There were three more night visits from officers of the sixth department. Then some other officers came along, who said they were from the general investigation department.  They threatened to take him to the Russian military base in Chechnya at Khankala: "you've been giving us all this trouble for nothing, and there you'll either tell us everything quickly, or you'll disappear." But in the end they didn't take him.

These talks had all taken so long that Nariman had been held in the police cells for 26 days, instead of the 10 days stipulated by law.  He was moved to a remand  prison, where he met Eldar Navruzov, who was also being held under the "Vadim Butdaev case" and who also had no idea who this person was. Itwas only later, once they were released, that Mamedyarov and Navruzov got to meet the Butdaev  family.

Like Eldar Navruzov, Nariman Mamedyarov was released in February  because all the charges fell through - apart from one, involving the automatic weapon with his fingerprints on it. The Buinaksk police knew what they were doing when they put the weapon in his hands.

Nariman has given a written undertaking not to leave town. He tries not to leave his home without a relative. He has noticed someone following him several times. But he cannot sit at home all day. He has to work. There is no one else to feed his family. He shrugs: "They kept asking me at the prosecutor's office whether I was a Wahhabi. In fact I go to an ordinary, traditional mosque. But I pray regularly and before Ramadan I and a few other guys spent 10 days in prayer in the mosque.  For a Muslim this is a good thing to do. Three of those guys were arrested with me. Two of them were soon released. But the third was held for several months, like me... I think the police can't catch the real "forest brothers," but they have to have some statistics to report. They take guys in when they notice that they go to the mosque a lot. "

I was taken to see Nariman Mamedyarov by Vadim Butdaev's brother in an old, shaky truck. Butdaev was killed by officers when they stormed a house in Makhachkala on last November 17.  In Dagestan he is portrayed as an important figure in the "Wahhabi underground." The press implied that he was receiving money from Al-Qaeda. If he did get money, it was clearly not enough to support his family.

Butdaev did take off for the forest the previous summer. His family-members believe that he would not have joined the insurgents if he could have lived and prayed without persecutions, beatings and humiliation.

His brother Ismail shakes his mane of gray hair, and looks into my eyes: "I'm not going to talk about Vadim any more. You didn't know him, you didn't see him. Why should you believe me? But you've just talked to this guy Nariman. Is he an enemy? A terrorist? What can a person do if he is not allowed to believe in God? What can he and his friends do if they cannot protect themselves? You know, if you drive a rat into a corner, it will bite you in the face... These guys are forced to do the same thing."

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