That day, after midday prayers, I heard screams in the street. I saw two soldiers running down the road shouting warnings that contract soldiers were coming. They shouted "If you have fighters, hide them. If you have young women, hide them or they will be raped." I then saw contract soldiers coming with scarves on their heads.
Aldi resident, Malika M.21
On February 5, multiple units consisting predominantly of Russian kontraktniki (contract soldiers)22 entered Aldi, likely numbering in excess of one hundred men, ostensibly to check villagers' identity documents, to flush out fighters who might attempt to resist them, and to detain suspected fighters who had been left behind. They were serving either alongside or within units of OMON, the riot police.23 There are consistent reports of the presence of much smaller numbers of conscript soldiers among the units. These conscripts, identifiable by their youth, also distinguished themselves in a number of incidents during which they either acted to warn residents of the imminent presence of and danger posed by the contract soldiers, or by their active intervention to save the lives of civilians. Contract soldiers are readily identifiable as such by their age, typically over thirty, and are often bearded and wear head scarves.
A witness who agreed to speak only under a strict guarantee of anonymity for fear of reprisal described the soldiers in more detail:
The soldiers had tattoos of an anchor on their hands, like criminals. The soldiers looked like Russians. They were not Ossetian or Dagestani....The commander had blue eyes, fair hair, was of average height, and was slim. He had reddish stubble. I didn't notice any rank....They called themselves police. Two soldiers had Asian eyes, they were from northern Russia. The soldiers who came on the fifth used a code name on the radio: "Kaban" [Russian for boar.] I heard them use the names Dima and Sergei.24
The witness identified one of the soldiers as the commander by his clothing-he wore a uniform jacket, whereas the others wore camouflage-and by the orders he gave to other soldiers:
The commander took me by the sleeve of my jacket and said that his soldiers had killed several Chechen men by mistake and ordered me to organize their burial quickly.25
Judging by witness testimony, Ministry of Defense units were also actively engaged in the sweep operation on February 5. The first soldiers entered Aldi at about 9:00 a.m. Witnesses first saw the soldiers at different times of the morning-depending on the routes the soldiers took and how long they spent on each particular street or at each particular house.
Luisa Umkhaeva described hearing gunshots at approximately 11:00 a.m. She told Human Rights Watch that "three soldiers came into our yard. They were about forty-five, fifty years old in green military uniform. They wore knitted hats."26
Aina Mezhidova also said the soldiers came at 11:00 a.m.:
Some were wearing head scarves; some were in masks. They were in green military camouflage; some were in grey camouflage. They were between thirty-five and forty years old.27
Another witness stated that residents had found the passport of one of the contract soldiers, who they said, had dropped it on February 5. Although Human Rights Watch researchers did not see a copy of the passport, they were given the passport details of a thirty-two-year-old Russian man from Krasnodar province. Other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that when the contract soldiers returned, they went from house to house asking Aldi residents if they had found the passport of one of their men.21 Human Rights Watch interview with Malika M. (not her real name), Ingushetia, March 2, 2000. 22 Contract soldiers work on short-term military service contracts. Chechen civilians usually describe Russian soldiers as being either srochniki - conscripts - or kontraktniki - contract soldiers. They identify conscript soldiers as such by their young age. Chechen civilians typically use the blanket term "kontraktniki" for all other Russian forces. 23 OMON stands for Otriad Militsii Osobogo Naznachenia, or special task militia unit. 24 Human Rights Watch interview, Ingushetia, March 2000. Contract soldiers were among those responsible for the massacre and pillage at Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999. For further information on these incidents, see "No Happiness Remains: Civilian Killings, Pillage and Rape in Alkhan-Yurt," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.12, no. 5(D), April 2000. 25 Human Rights Watch interview, exact location and date withheld, Ingushetia, March 2000. 26 Human Rights Watch interview, Nazran, Ingushetia, March 17, 2000. 27 Human Rights Watch interview, Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia, March 18, 2000.