Nearly all of the killings committed by Russian soldiers in Alkhan-Yurt were reportedly carried out by soldiers who were looting. Many other civilians who attempted to stop the looting were threatened with death by Russian soldiers, and narrowly escaped execution. The looting of Alkhan-Yurt was systematic and organized, involving a large number of soldiers who acted with impunity throughout their stay in the village. Looted goods were stored in the homes occupied by Russian commanders as well as the tents of soldiers, and were transported openly in military vehicles out of Alkhan-Yurt. It is simply impossible that such widespread looting could take place in broad daylight without the knowledge and, at a minimum, the tacit consent of Russian commanders. The looting that took place in Alkhan-Yurt was not an isolated incident of such misconduct by Russian forces in Chechnya: since the beginning of the Chechen conflict, Russian troops have been systematically looting villages and towns under their control, and there is no evidence that the Russian command has taken any steps to prevent it.69
Nearly every Alkhan-Yurt villager interviewed by Human Rights Watch was either a victim of looting by Russian soldiers, knew of other victims, or witnessed the looting of other villagers' homes. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they watched as soldiers loaded household goods-furniture, clothing, refrigerators, televisions, and the like-onto trucks and armored personnel carriers. When Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Plenipotentiary Representative to Chechnya Nikolai Koshman and Malik Saidulayev, one of the most prominent of pro-Moscow Chechen leaders, traveled to Alkhan-Yurt on December 17, 1999, to investigate allegations of abuse by Russian troops, they found extensive evidence of looting by Russian soldiers (the visit, which was videotaped, is discussed at length below). Some villagers said that when they were finally allowed to walk in the streets, they were still required to carry white flags. According to Lidia Alikhanova, an obstetrician, "Everybody was walking with white flags, small children too."70
Buru Altimirov, whose son Aindi Altimirov was killed by Russian soldiers (see above), told Human Rights Watch how soldiers had come to loot his home. The gates to his house and his cattle pen had been destroyed during shelling, and after midday on December 5 a group of five soldiers drove into his yard with a military truck:
They took the carpets, mattresses, pillows, blankets, television, video, the fridge, a bag of potatoes, all the winter [food] reserves such as jams. I was at home when they came, outside. Two soldiers stood, [one] on each side of me, aiming their guns at me and telling me not to move.71
On an earlier occasion, two soldiers had come to Buru Altimirov's house, and one of the soldiers had aimed his gun at him, saying that "You must all be shot." Altimirov was saved when the other soldier intervened.
Haji Vakha Muradov, whose son Isa was killed by Russian troops (see above), also was repeatedly threatened by Russian troops. On December 8 at about 6 p.m., just hours before his son was killed by Russian troops, Muradov came home from checking on his cattle and surprised several soldiers who were looting his home: "The soldiers were coming out of my room with bags in their hands [and] put me up against the wall." He pleaded with them to save his life, explaining he was a religious leader: "Don't you Russians believe in the pope? I am the pope of this village." The soldiers then left. Just a few days earlier, on December 4, he had surprised another group of soldiers:
They came out of another room of my house, and put me up against the wall under the awning. They had bags filled which were completely full, coming out of the girls' room. The house was all destroyed and they were taking all the clothes. They asked, `Who are you?' I said I was a member of the village council for forty years. They said, `Don't touch the old man,' and left: twice I was saved from death.
Everything in the house is out of place, they trashed the place. It is hard to know what is missing. They come to your place ten, fifteen times. I have three buildings [in my homestead compound], and they took the televisions and carpets in all.72
Shamkhan Hadayev, fifty-six, remained in Alkhan-Yurt to guard his own home and those in his neighborhood. He was hiding in a small woods near the village, and watched soldiers come to his neighborhood on December 12:
The soldiers came on tanks and APCs. They had a trailer, which they took from a neighbor's yard. They loaded it with armchairs, televisions, video players, sofas. I have two daughters, and all their clothes were taken. This took maybe an hour, there were so many soldiers that they could do it quickly. It is difficult to count when you are hungry, but there were more than fifteen soldiers.... That is when I realized I had nothing left, and went to Urus-Martan.... They started with my house, then went to Arbi T.'s house and broke the gates to his house with their APCs, and after that to Magomet N.'s house.... In the neighboring street Vakha H.'s house, my cousin, was looted.73
Shaarani Avtayev, a forty-three-year-old driver from Alkhan-Yurt, was forced to leave Alkhan-Yurt for Kulary along with many other villagers on December 1. On December 13, he managed to return to Alkhan-Yurt to find out what happened to his home. In Kulary, he was forced to pay 200 rubles (about U.S.$7.50) to contract soldiers serving among the Ministry of Internal Affairs troops in order to be allowed to enter Alkhan-Yurt. Avtayev paid the money, and was taken to Alkhan-Yurt in an APC, along with two other men from the village. Shaarani recounted to Human Rights Watch what he saw when he arrived at his home:
I only got to stay five or ten minutes. The soldiers took me to my house, and then back to Kulary. My house was burned, only the walls were standing. The gates were broken down. My car was no longer in the garage, it was taken by soldiers. I paid the 200 rubles to contract soldiers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the ones who were looting were also contractors from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Seventy percent of the homes on my street were damaged and burned.... Now I have only the clothes which I took with me as a refugee.... The soldiers took my TV set, carpets, furniture, refrigerator. I looked inside the house and there was nothing, they even took the iron stove.74
Villagers did what they could to stop the looting, aware that soldiers had executed many who had resisted it. Villagers began registering the license plates of the military vehicles that soldiers were using to loot, and ultimately turned this information over to Nikolai Koshman, deputy prime minister and the Russian government's chief representative in Chechnya, when he visited Alkhan-Yurt on December 17. When the looting soldiers realized that their license plates were being recorded, they began using other forms of transport: "When the soldiers realized we were registering the cars, they took to local transport, or what was left of it-tractors, trailers, wagons-and with these, they carted the things away."7569 See Human Rights Watch release, "Looting Underway in Russian-controlled areas of Chechnya: Russian Soldiers Stripping Homes Bare," November 24, 1999. Pillage is banned by international humanitarian law. Article 4 of Protocol II additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, protects, among other things, civilian immunity in internal armed conflicts. Article 4(2) forbids pillage. 70 Human Rights Watch interview with Lidia Alikhanova, age unknown, Pliyevo, Ingushetia, December 13, 1999. 71 Human Rights Watch interview with Buru Altimirov, Plyevo, Ingushetia, December 25, 1999. 72 Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Vakha Muradov, seventy-five, Nazran, Ingushetia, December 15, 1999. 73 Human Rights Watch interview with Shamkhan Hadayev, fifty-six, Adlet-20 border crossing, Ingushetia, December 14, 1999. 74 Human Rights Watch interview with Shaarani Avtayev, Adlet-20 border crossing, Ingushetia, December 15, 1999. 75 Human Rights Watch interview with Lidia Alikhanova, Pliyevo, Ingushetia, December 13, 1999.