Alkhan-Kala is a mid-sized town of approximately 20,000 inhabitants about five kilometers west of Grozny. Russian troops took control of the town in late November 1999. The security situation in Alkhan-Kala has been tense since then and numerous human rights abuses by rebel forces and Russian troops have been reported.
In January 2000, groups of Chechen rebel fighters entered the town on two occasions. Early that month, rebel fighters briefly took the town after a surprise attack on Russian troops, but Russian soldiers forced the rebels out within days. In late January, several groups of rebel fighters, many wounded after walking through a minefield, flooded the town during an escape from Grozny. The fighters almost immediately moved on toward the mountains in southern Chechnya.
During the next eighteen months, members of the rebel group led by Arbi Baraev-a rebel commander believed to have been involved in numerous kidnappings and a native to Alkhan-Kala-remained active in the town despite the presence of Russian troops. His group was widely believed to be responsible for the murders of several Chechens who worked in the pro-Russian administration of the town. In November 2000, gunmen assassinated Yusha Tsuev, the Russian-appointed head of administration of Alkhan-Kala. In December 2000, gunmen shot Zura Kalieva and her husband Ruslan Utsaev; Kalieva had worked in the town administration. In July 2001, gunmen shot Ramzan Gatsaev, the new head of administration.63
The town was also the scene of the killing of a journalist, whose attackers' identities were less clear. On November 21, 2000, unidentified gunmen speaking Chechen shot twenty-four-year-old freelance journalist Adam Tepsurkaev during a nighttime attack on the house where he was staying. Tepsurkaev had previously applied to the United States government for political asylum, as he feared being arrested or killed by Russian forces in retaliation for extensive video footage he had taken of Russian soldiers abusing Chechen civilians. Several months earlier, Russian soldiers had detained and tortured Tepsurkaev's younger brother, demanding that Adam Tepsurkaev turn himself in.
Russian troops conducted repeated large-scale sweep operations and detained numerous inhabitants of the town. Many detainees eventually released said they had been tortured. More than a dozen have "disappeared," while the bodies of several others were found in unmarked graves. On August 14, 2000, Russian soldiers conducted a sweep operation in Alkhan-Kala and detained several dozen men. Eight of the detainees were transferred to Khankala military base that same day. "Magomed Musaev" (not his real name) told Human Rights Watch he was tortured on a daily basis for a week before his relatives paid military officials for his release.64 Three of the other detainees were also bought out. The four remaining detainees, however, were not released. In February 2001, the body of Saikhan Askhabov, one of the four men, was found in a mass grave near Khankala military base.65 In April 2001, Russian soldiers conducted another large-scale sweep in the course of which eleven men who were detained subsequently "disappeared." The body of the one of the men was found several weeks later just outside Alkhan-Kala. In May, during another sweep operation, drunken soldiers looted houses and destroyed civilian property.
These events set the stage for the operation on June 19-25, 2001.
The most extensive and severe military sweep in Alkhan-Kala started in the late morning of June 19 when large numbers of Russian troops entered the town. Officials did not publicly state a reason for the sweep, although it led to the death of rebel leader Arbi Baraev. The troops left the town almost a week later, on June 25, after conducting countless passport checks and detaining hundreds of men. They also engaged at least two confrontations with armed rebels, one of which led to the death of Baraev.
At around 9:00 a.m., Russian troops entered Alkhan Kala in force from the air and on the ground. Forty-two-year-old "Suleiman Zubaev" (not his real name), who lives in the eastern part of Alkhan-Kala, told Human Rights Watch that that morning a "whole armada of helicopters" came into the town.66 Zubaev watched from his courtyard as several helicopters landed in different places in the town and saw how armed paratroopers jumped out and blocked the streets. He said large numbers of APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) and tanks entered the town at the same time. Other eyewitnesses gave similar accounts of the events. For example, forty-six-year-old "Aset Murdalova" (not her real name) had gone out that morning to buy meat when the helicopters arrived. She said, "Everyone was running home because of the helicopters. They knew something would happen." 67 Murdalova herself also hurried home.
Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the troops that entered Alkhan-Kala that morning were brought in from military bases at Khankala, Urus-Martan, and Tolstoi-Yurt. The troops set up their base at the military commander's office in town.68 The witnesses said the OMON troops (riot police) normally based in the town, with whom the town's inhabitants apparently enjoyed good relations, did not participate in the passport checks or the military operations.69
Soldiers started checking streets and houses that same day. According to several eyewitnesses, they detained a number of men during passport checks, as well as several men who tried to enter the town that afternoon. Most detainees were apparently released that same evening without signs of ill-treatment. However, the corpses of three detainees who were not released that night were found about a week later in a well (see below).
Numerous checks were conducted that first day. Fifty-eight-year-old Akhmed Dubaev, who returned to Alkhan-Kala from a day's work at around 5:00 p.m., told Human Rights Watch soldiers stopped him and a group of others several times as he walked from the edge of the town to his home. When crossing the main road of Alkhan-Kala, "they stopped us, checked [our identity papers], checked with lists [of wanted persons], carefully checked our bags, and then let us go. We went on another one hundred meters when the same procedure happened again." 70 However, Dubaev had no complaints about offensive language, manhandling, or maltreatment by the soldiers.
"Elmira Bakaeva" had traveled to Grozny on June 19 and returned to Alkhan-Kala in the afternoon. She also had to walk from the edge of the town to her home. On the way home, she and some others encountered a group of soldiers checking houses. She said: "There was machine-gun fire, they were detaining people, shooting under the legs of people."71 The soldiers refused to let Bakaeva walk home via the road she chose. She eventually reached her home safely via a different route.
Several eyewitnesses reported that people were detained during checks and brought to the military commander's office. For example, Akhmed Dubaev said that when he came back to Alkhan-Kala that afternoon by bus, troops had closed the entry roads for vehicles. 72 The soldiers told him and his fellow passengers to exit. The soldiers then detained the bus driver but allowed all passengers-about eighteen women and two men in their fifties-to walk to their homes in Alkhan-Kala. Dubaev did not know what happened to the bus driver. Forty-seven-year-old "Zina Yandieva" told Human Rights Watch that her husband was detained when he returned to Alkhan-Kala by car. 73 Soldiers took him to the military commander's office and released him the next day. Yandieva did not complain to Human Rights Watch about his treatment in detention. By most accounts, almost all detainees were released unharmed that same evening.
Russian troops continued to conduct passport checks on day two of the sweep. They detained an unknown number of men, most of whom were apparently released the same evening. Human Rights Watch was unable to interview any of these detainees. According to Elmira Bakaeva, the deterioration of the soldiers' attitude toward the civilian population had begun on June 20.74 She said they started checking homes that morning, approaching houses, including hers, from two sides to ensure nobody could escape from the courtyard, and ordered the inhabitants to go inside. She said the soldiers used offensive language and torched an abandoned shed and house between Pervomaiskaia Street and Oktyabrskaia Street. When the soldiers had left, neighbors tried to save the house by removing its flammable roof. On the other hand, "Aset Murdalova" (not her real name), who lives on Lenin Street, said the soldiers who checked her house that day were polite.75
On the third day of the operation, Russian troops and Chechen rebel forces clashed in central Alkhan-Kala, leaving at least six people dead. During that battle, Russian troops detained two young men who subsequently "disappeared" (see below) and burned and plundered several houses. Russian troops also continued to conduct ordinary passport checks that day in other parts of Alkhan-Kala.
Witnesses on Partizanskaia Street in central Alkhan-Kala say government shelling began after military vehicles passed by. 76 Aset Murdalova, who lives on Lenin Street a few blocks away, said: "There were planes circling in the air... I was watching from the street and I could see the pilots and everything. They were flying so low, I thought the roofs would blow off."77
Shortly after, soldiers entered the houses of both Khadisht Vitaeva and "Zina Yandieva," two residents of the neighborhood. Vitaeva told Human Rights Watch that her house does not have a basement and that she, her husband, his friend, her child, and three nephews and nieces had decided to seek shelter in a neighbor's basement.
Later, the soldiers detained Vitaeva's husband and his friend (see below) and forced her, her child, and three nephews and nieces to leave her courtyard. When Vitaeva later returned, her house was burning and she found many of her belongings spread out in the courtyard and on the road. Among other things, she found photos and photo albums down in a well. Zina Yandieva also said she saw Vitaeva's house burning. She told Human Rights Watch: "I ran over to that house but there was no one there and everything was burning."79
Yandieva, who was at home with her disabled husband and their daughter, said that soon after the battle broke out thirty soldiers came into their house and forced them to lie down on the ground.
Yandieva said the soldiers came back to the house some time later and asked for the basement. When shown the basement, they dropped a grenade into it. She said that soldiers also drove an APC into her courtyard and wrecked and then set alight a little summer kitchen in her garden. She also saw soldiers shooting from helicopters apparently at random, killing Yandieva's neighbors' six cows. When the APC drove away from her house, she said, it opened fire on a house on the corner of Lenin Street for no apparent reason. Neighbors later extinguished the resulting fire in the house.81
The battle with armed rebels lasted until approximately 5:00 p.m.
Human Rights Watch has information that six men, possibly combatants, died during the fighting on and around Partizanskaia Street. None of the eyewitnesses Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to were able or willing to identify the dead. Some of them were said to have been from other villages. In the absence of further evidence it is impossible to establish whether the deaths of these people were the result of lawful acts of war or constitute violations of international humanitarian law.
Zina Yandieva saw the bodies when she went outside following the check at her house. She said: "I saw dead bodies on the APC, on top of the tank and elsewhere. Some of them were lying on the ground. Then they threw them on the tank..."82 The bodies were taken away on the APC to the military commander's office. The next day, Yandieva went to the military commander's office to look for a relative who was detained during the battle (see below), military officials acknowledged to her that there were six corpses in the military commander's office.
Suleiman Zubaev, an inhabitant of Alkhan-Kala, told Human Rights Watch that, at the request of relatives of the deceased, he helped transport the bodies to the cemetery for temporary burial. 83 However, Zubaev said that when he got to the military commander's office at around 2:00 p.m. on June 22, he saw a total of eight bodies there. He identified the additional bodies as those of Daud Vitaev and Rustam Razhepov but did not identify any of the other men. Zubaev said the bodies lay in a row on the street. Six of them were completely naked, one was dressed in a camouflage uniform, and one in sports clothes. He said he saw rope on the legs of each of the dead men and assumed they had been pulled behind a vehicle for transportation. According to Zubaev, some of the bodies were grossly disfigured, and the imprints of military vehicle tires were visible on some. With the military's permission, Zubaev and several other men took the bodies to the cemetery, where they were temporarily buried in a collective pit.84
Russian troops on June 22 fought with members of Arbi Baraev's group near Sovkhoznaia Street, apparently killing two of Baraev's men and detaining another (see below); Baraev himself was wounded. Russian soldiers also continued to check passports and detain men. Many of the men detained that day later complained of torture (see below).
According to various accounts, the soldiers' attitude had deteriorated significantly after the armed clashes. Elmira Bakaeva said the soldiers were now looting, torching houses, and killing chickens and ducks for food on a large scale.85 She said people on her street, near Pervomaiskaia Street, were not even allowed to go to their neighbors, so "going out to help someone was impossible."
At approximately 11:00 a.m., soldiers with a big attack dog kicked open the door of Aset Murdalova's house. The soldiers, one of whom Murdalova described as "half undressed, with a scarf on his head," checked the house, the basement, and the other buildings in the courtyard. They called Murdalova a "bitch" and threatened to shoot her goat. One soldier pulled a one-hundred ruble note from her bra. 86 In the evening, soldiers came to the house of fifteen-year-old "Nura Kalieva" and asked her if there were any men in the house.87 When she replied in the negative, the soldiers asked her about her age and made sexual insinuations. Kalieva went into her house to her grandmother. When they realized there were other people in the home, the soldiers left, threatening to come back later. After the incident, Kalieva's relatives moved her to Ingushetia.
Elmira Bakaeva was at her home near Pervomaiskaia Street when she heard machine gun fire at the intersection of Sovkhoznaia and Stepnaia Streets. She said that shortly after, APCs started driving through, the soldiers yelling, "faster, faster." Bakaeva said neighbors saw soldiers take a captive man from one of the homes on Stepnaia Street, believed to be Bislan Khasaev (see below), who they drove away in an ambulance.
Subsequently, military vehicles started arriving and took up positions. 88 A thirty-minute battle then ensued between government troops and rebel forces. Bakaeva said the APCs and tanks, including one right near her house, started shooting at a house on the corner of Sovkhoznaia and Stepnaia Streets; the house went up in flames. According to Bakaeva, the soldiers targeted only that specific house-apparently because Baraev and his group were hiding there-and the houses in the neighborhood did not suffer significantly. She also believed no civilians were killed during the battle.89
Russian soldiers recovered two dead bodies from the house. Bakaeva said they started cheering "Hooray, hooray," in the apparent belief that they had killed Arbi Baraev. Later, however, it transpired that Baraev's body was not among those recovered from the house. Bakaeva said she believed Baraev had been wounded at the house but had somehow managed to hide and thus avoided being taken into custody.90
Russian troops continued to hunt for Arbi Baraev on June 23, detaining numerous men without giving a reason. Many of the men later complained of severe beatings and torture (see below).
According to Elmira Bakaeva, military vehicles started driving around the village at about 4:00 a.m. With the neighborhood where she was staying closed off, soldiers began checking homes at around 7 a.m. Bakaeva said different groups of soldiers checked the house where she was staying five or six times. She said the soldiers took all of the men, pulled their shirts over their heads and gathered them at the school where they were made to lie face down on the ground. 91 She also said the soldiers set alight the house next to where she was staying and shot up the ceiling and walls for no apparent reason.
Bakaeva and another eyewitness said a family that lived near the scene of the battle the previous day was detained. 92 She said the soldiers took an elderly man, his son and three grandchildren, as well as the son's mother-in-law. According to Bakaeva, who spoke to the family after their release, the soldiers had beaten them all, including the woman, and tortured them with electric shocks. The other witness gave a slightly different account of events, saying that the elderly man and his two sons were taken to Khankala where they were severely beaten while the female relative was beaten at her home.93 The soldiers had accused them of hiding Baraev. The family was released only after the soldiers discovered Baraev's body on June 24.
Soldiers continued to detain men indiscriminately on June 24. Many of these men later complained of severe beatings and torture (see below). Also on June 24, the Russian troops transferred a group of thirty-four civilian detainees to the main base of the Russian troops at Khankala. Some of these detainees were apparently transported that same day from Khankala to a detention facility at the town of Goriacheistochnenskaia. The troops released those remaining detainees held in the military commander's office in Alkhan-Kala.
Russian troops wrapped up their operation and left Alkhan-Kala. The relatives of those who had been detained but not released started looking for their loved ones. Then and subsequently, some relatives paid bribes to Russian soldiers to ensure the release of their loved ones from Khankala military base and the town of Goriacheistochnenskaia (see below), while others discovered their dead bodies in makeshift graves in and around the town.
Human Rights Watch received convincing evidence that Russian troops summarily executed at least six men after first detaining them. The organization has notified the Russian government of each of these cases but as of early December 2001 had not received any information regarding a possible investigation into the executions. International law strictly prohibits all forms of extrajudicial execution.
Russian soldiers detained Rustam Razhepov and Daud Vitaev on June 21 at the home of the Vitaevs. Their relatives found their dead bodies in a makeshift grave several days after the sweep operation ended.
Razhepov and Vitaev were at Daud Vitaev's house at 33 Partizanskaia Street on June 21, when the battle between Russian troops and Chechen rebel forces broke out. As soon as the shelling stopped, a large number of Russian soldiers climbed over the fence. According to Khadisht Vitaeva, Daud's wife, the soldiers pushed Vitaev and Razhepov out of the house and forced them to lay face down on the ground as they checked their documents. 94 Vitaeva's assertions of their innocence produced abuse from the soldiers: "[I told them] they were innocent. They pushed and punched me back."95
As the two men were lying in the courtyard, the soldiers forced Vitaeva and the children out at gunpoint. She went into the street yelling, "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" as, she said, there were snipers there. She took the children to the house of her brother-in-law, seven courtyards further along the same street.96
Once the battle was over, Vitaeva and Zina Yandieva, a relative of Rustam Razhepov, started a search for their loved ones. Yandieva ran up to some soldiers on an APC near Vitaeva's house and asked them where the two men were. In response, she told Human Rights Watch, "They started maligning me, saying `Bitch, we don't have them.'"97 Then, according to Yandieva:
The women spent the next few days standing outside the military commander's office waiting. On July 24, however, they were told all remaining detainees had been taken to the Khankala military base. The women then traveled there-an unsuccessful trip from which they returned on June 26 or 27, to learn that the bodies of Daud Vitaev and Rustam Razhepov had been found. Villagers had gone to the cemetery that day to excavate the pit in which eight bodies had been buried on June 22. Relatives of the two men had positively identified them.99
Neither woman saw the bodies, but they were told by relatives that both were severely disfigured and not easy to identify. Razhepov reportedly was identified by the color of his eyes and hair, his trousers and a pack of cigarettes that his mother had seen in his pocket when he left his house to visit the Vitaevs. 100 Yandieva said she had saved the shoes her relative had been wearing, which were very bloody. Vitaeva said she knew her husband had been beaten as she spoke to people who witnessed him being beaten on a military vehicle.101
Russian soldiers apparently detained Ruslan Davletukaev (twenty-one years old), Elman Bazaev (around twenty), and Musa Amirov (around twenty) in the center of Alkhan-Kala on June 19. Their relatives found their dead bodies one week later in a dry well.
Human Rights Watch was unable to establish the exact circumstances of the detention of the three men. According to Davletukaev's mother, who was not in Alkhan-Kala on June 19, they were together in the center of town when soldiers detained them.102 Another witness, "Aminat Estamirova" (not her real name), said the men were detained while praying in a courtyard but was unable to provide any further details.103 However, Estamirova said several men who were released from the military commander's office that night confirmed that Davletukaev, Bazaev, and Amirov were at the office and said they had been beaten severely.
Zura Davletukaeva returned to Alkhan-Kala on June 21 but found it encircled and sealed off. She and her sister-in-law were only able to enter the town on foot. This was when Davletukaeva found out about her son's detention.104 The following morning, she went to the military commander's office, together with the head of the local administration and members of the council of elders. The soldiers initially denied Davletukaev and the others were at the military commander's office but later promised they would look into their cases once more. At around midnight, the soldiers said no one else would be released that day, and Davletukaeva went home.105
In the next few days, Davletukaeva received some confirmation that her son was still in detention. On June 24, Davletukaeva said, she received information from an unofficial Russian source that her son and his friends were in the hands of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and were in bad condition. Davletukaeva and a group of relatives of other detainees traveled to Khankala military base that day, and Davletukaeva was told that a criminal case had been opened against her son. But Davletukaeva was unable to establish where he was being held and exactly by whom.106
In subsequent days, Davletukaeva and relatives of other detainees also traveled to Goriacheistochnenskaia, the administrative center of the region in Chechnya to which Alkhan-Kala belongs, but were unable to meet with the prosecutor for the region. In desperation, twelve women then went to Grozny and in protest blocked a road, demanding meetings with representatives of the government of Chechnya. According to Davletukaeva, OMON troops were then called in to remove the women from the road. 107
By July 1, the three young men were still missing. According to Davletukaeva, she and the relatives of the other young men suspected that the bodies of their relatives might have been thrown into a dry well near the military commander's office. The well, which was not in use, had been covered with a slab of concrete. Some of the detainees who were released from the military commander's office had told Davletukaeva and the other relatives that at one point they had heard an explosion from the direction of the well and that soldiers had told them: "Did you hear this, we blew up your scum [friends]."108
Davletukaeva said she spoke to the Russian units based in Alkhan-Kala about lifting the concrete cover and tried to arrange for a crane to do so. As the Russian units would not help them, the relatives started digging out the well themselves. According to Davletukaeva, Musa Amirov's remains were found on July 2. Two days later, on July 4, the remains of Elman Bazaev and Ruslan Davletukaev were uncovered. 109 According to Aminat Estamirova, the remains of two more bodies were found in the well; as of July 9, those bodies had not yet been identified.110
Zura Davletukaeva told Human Rights Watch she identified the body of her son by his pants and shoes. His upper body and head were never recovered. 111 Davletukaeva provided Human Rights Watch with seven pictures of the remains of at least two bodies found in the well. Four pictures show the legs and shoes identified as those of Ruslan Davletukaev. Also visible is a messy mixture of grass, human tissue, and internal organs.
Human Rights Watch received credible evidence of the torture and summary execution of Bislan Khasaev, reportedly a rebel fighter close to Arbi Baraev.
Russian troops detained Bislan Khasaev on June 22. An eyewitness, "Umar Chadaev," whom Human Rights Watch interviewed about his own detention (see below) confirmed that he saw Bislan Khasaev on June 23 at the military commander's office.112 He said that soldiers lowered Khasaev into a pit where he was held on June 23 during the day. That same night, the soldiers took Khasaev out of the pit, after which the eyewitness did not see him again. Chadaev said soldiers had subjected Khasaev to the same torture he himself had faced (see below).
On June 24, soldiers came to Mariat Khasaeva's house and confirmed that they had detained her son. She told Human Rights Watch:
Khasaeva told Human Rights Watch she was given four hours to produce Baraev to the soldiers. She said she told the soldiers that was an impossible condition. The soldiers then told her she would not see her sons alive. When leaving, one of the soldiers told her that she could pick Bislan's body up from the military commander's office.
On June 25, Khasaeva went to the military commander's office to look for her son's body. She said she was met by the troops who are normally based in Alkhan-Kala and who did not participate in the sweep operation.114 One of them brought her to a little hill and helped her excavate a fresh grave, which was only about thirty centimeters deep. The soldier dug up three bodies; Khasaeva recognized the first as her son.
She said her son had been shot through the head, just above the right eye, and two more times on the left side of the chest. His right arm, which was unnaturally positioned behind the back, had been dislocated or possibly broken. Khasaeva also said his legs and chest were severely bruised.115
Khasaeva said that people from the village told her the two other men found in the makeshift grave were brothers from Urus-Martan named Rustam and Rakhman. She did not know their last names. She believed their bodies had already been in the grave for a while, as they had started to decompose. She said both bodies were headless and had been wrapped in canvas.116
Human Rights Watch received information regarding the discovery of four makeshift graves in and around Alkhan-Kala in the immediate aftermath of the sweep operation. These graves contained around twenty corpses, including those of the six men who were summarily executed, six men who apparently died during the June 21 battle in central Alkhan-Kala, and possibly the two associates of Baraev who were reportedly killed on June 22. Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain any information on the identities of the other six dead.
Human Rights Watch researchers conducted detailed interviews with three men who were detained and tortured during the second half of the sweep operation in Alkhan-Kala. Each of these former detainees recounted being severely beaten and kicked. One said he had been subjected to electric shocks and asphyxiation. Another said he was repeatedly threatened with execution. Each of the former detainees indicated that dozens of other men held with them were subjected to similar treatment.
Human Rights Watch also received several second-hand accounts of torture and other ill-treatment, in particular from women who waited outside the military commander's office for the release of their relatives. These women saw the condition in which numerous detainees were released and spoke to some about their treatment. For example, Zura Davletukaeva told Human Rights Watch she saw a number of men who were released on June 21 as she was waiting to hear news about her son. She said they had been severely beaten and said they were subjected to electric shocks.
Russian soldiers detained "Umar Chadaev" twice during the sweep.117 On June 20 at around 10:00 a.m., ten to fifteen soldiers entered the courtyard where Chadaev and his family were staying. The soldiers told Chadaev and his cousin that they would detain them, run their names and passport numbers through a computer, and then release them in the evening. Chadaev told Human Rights Watch the soldiers behaved properly and did not use any offensive language or violence. The soldiers took the two men to the military commander's office. At the military commander's office, Chadaev said he was questioned for about thirty minutes and "beaten a bit." After the interrogation, he was taken into a large house where there were many-Chadaev estimated hundreds-of other detainees. Chadaev was not questioned further once he was taken into the house. But, he said, soldiers took others outside from time to time and beat them. In the evening, the soldiers started releasing the detainees in groups of ten. Chadaev said the soldiers returned his passport and released him at around 9:00 p.m.
On June 22, the soldiers again came to Chadaev's house. After checking his passport and that of his cousin, the soldiers sat the two men down near a wall. They subsequently searched the house. Chadaev said that as soon as the soldiers came out of the house they ordered the two men to lie down on the ground. The soldiers bound their hands behind their backs and pulled their shirts over their heads. They then put the men on an APC and drove them to the military commander's office, where the soldiers told him he had five minutes to remember where Baraev and his group were. He described his interaction with one soldier:
The soldiers took Chadaev into the house and removed his shirt from his face. They started to beat him and demanded information on Baraev and his group. He said the soldiers punched and kicked him and beat him with a rubber hose and a metal rod used to clean the barrel of firearms.
After the interrogation, the soldiers put Chadaev into a pit in the ground on the premises of the military commander's office. Chadaev said the pit was about one meter in diameter and two meters deep. The pit was covered and had a small door through which detainees were pulled out and thrown in. The pit did not have a ladder. Chadaev was held in the pit with seven other people, among them for some time Bislan Khasaev (see above). Chadaev believed there were other pits on the premises of the military commander's office but did not see them himself.
Chadaev estimated soldiers pulled him out of the pit for questioning seven or eight time over the course of two days. Each time, he was taken into the military commander's office to one specific room where the same group of soldiers abused him. According to his account, the soldiers beat him on the back, in the kidney area, on the legs, but not in the face. Chadaev said they also asphyxiated him and gave him electric shocks, but did not provide details. During each session, the soldiers asked the same questions about Baraev and his group. Chadaev said he was also questioned several times during the night.
In the evening of June 24, Chadaev was in the pit when someone he thought was a commander called his name. He responded. The commander replied: "Sit there a little longer, we're going to release you." Chadaev told Human Rights Watch that he did not believe he would be released but the commander pulled him out, returned his passport and released him.
Chadaev told Human Rights Watch that seven people were held with him in the pit. On the day following his release, the dead bodies of several of them, including that of Bislan Khasaev, were returned to their relatives. Chadaev knew the last names of only two of the other detainees: Ibragimov and Uadnazov.118 He said the other men had not been locals. Human Rights Watch confirmed the death of Bislan Khasaev but has no further information on the other men.
Early in the morning of June 23 soldiers came to the house of twenty-two-year-old Arsen Musaev and woke him. They immediately started calling Musaev-who has a very dark complexion-an "Arab" and a "soldier of fortune." According to Musaev's account, the soldiers searched the house and checked the documents of all of the residents, including the women. Even though, according to Musaev, his papers were in order, the soldiers detained him and his elder brother.119
The soldiers put the brothers in an avtozak,120 then drove to neighboring homes, where more men were detained. According to Musaev, the soldiers kicked and beat the detainees on the way. At around midday, the soldiers delivered fourteen detainees to the military commander's office.
Musaev told Human Rights Watch an officer who did not identify himself questioned him and the other detainees one by one. The first interrogation lasted about fifteen minutes. The officer, who Musaev understood to be from the military intelligence service (GRU), asked him very general questions such as: "Where are the Arabs?" "Where are the mercenaries?" "Where are the weapons?" and "Where are the narcotics?" Musaev said he was not beaten during that interrogation.
Soldiers then forced Musaev to lie face down on the ground outside on the premises of the military commander's office; others, he said, were forced to do the same. Several soldiers kicked him and the other men as they lay on the ground, and took their pictures as they lay there. After about an hour and a half, there was another round of questioning, this time by soldiers Musaev had not seen before, and during this interrogation Musaev was severely beaten. He said the soldiers hit him over the head, threatened him with a knife, and hit and kicked him with their fists, boots, and rifle butts. His tormentors wanted to know where Baraev and Khattab were hiding and wanted him to sign various papers, including his own death sentence. 121 He thought this interrogation lasted about one hour.
In the evening, the majority of the detainees at the military commander's office were released, among them his elder brother. According to Musaev, eighteen detainees, including him, spent the night in detention. Musaev believed that six or seven detainees were sent to Khankala that day and that one was sent to Chernokozovo, a pre-trial detention facility. He did not know any names.
The next day, the soldiers told Musaev they wanted an automatic weapon in exchange for his release; otherwise he would be sent to Khankala. That same evening, at around 11:00 p.m., the soldiers released Musaev and twelve other men, but only after Musaev had signed a statement that he had no complaints about his treatment in detention.
A Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed Suleiman Zubaev two days after his release, on June 30, in Ingushetia. He had a severely swollen nose, both eyes were blacked, and there was a long, thin bruise on the right side of his body in the kidney area. Zubaev had great difficulty getting up and walking.122
At approximately 1:00 p.m. on June 24, soldiers charged into the courtyard of Suleiman Zubaev's house near Stadionnaia Street. One group knocked down the gate, another group climbed over the fence. They immediately forced Zubaev to lay face down on the ground and put his hands behind his head. In the presence of his wife and small children, the soldiers kicked Zubaev in the head, in the kidney area, and elsewhere. This went on for a long time. When Zubaev's wife came out of the house, the soldiers hit her several times with the butts of their rifles and pushed her aside.
While some soldiers abused Zubaev in the courtyard, others searched the house. The soldiers then put handcuffs on Zubaev and loaded him on an APC. Zubaev said that, after his release, his wife told him how the soldiers had conducted the search. He said they had taken an electric generator, clothes, a television, a cassette player, and tapes. They had also taken an ax from the courtyard and destroyed his furniture.
At the military commander's office, Zubaev was forced to lie on the ground for an hour while soldiers kicked him. He said one of the soldiers put his foot on his neck and pressed down, calling Zubaev a "bastard" and a "bandit." Zubaev said there were several other people lying in a similar position near him. Among them was a boy who looked no older than sixteen, wearing only underwear and a t-shirt; he had been beaten badly. After about an hour, the soldiers forced the detainees to get up and clean the grounds of the military commander's office. Subsequently, the soldiers put the men into two cars, an avtozak and a truck.
After about one hour in the avtozak, Zubaev and thirteen of the detainees arrived at Khankala military base. The soldiers opened the door and took the detainees out one by one. The soldiers put handcuffs on him, then pulled a plastic bag (Zubaev called it a kulek in Russian) on his head that fit very tightly, making it hard to breathe. In the meantime, he said, soldiers based at Khankala came running up, yelling, "They brought in new bandits!" and started beating and kicking him. The soldiers led Zubaev to a pit, which he described as three by four meters wide and about four meters deep. The sides of the pit were covered with wooden boards, and there were old mattresses and earth on the bottom. The top of the pit was also covered. There was a little door in the cover, approximately fifty by seventy centimeters and a ladder to go up and down. Zubaev said the soldiers put eight people in his pit. Zubaev said that at the bottom of the pit he and his fellow detainees found the detritus left by previous detainees, including a bottle with urine and some empty tins.
At around 8:00 p.m. that same evening, the soldiers started leading the detainees one by one to interrogations. Zubaev recounted:
Zubaev said the soldiers took him to a place about fifty meters from the pit and forced him to sit down near a wall. One of the soldiers put his gun to Zubaev's head and said: "Well, kozel (goat), are you going to talk?" According to Zubaev, three men in masks conducted the interrogation. One was sitting at a table and writing, one stood by with a gun, the third beat him. Zubaev said the men accused him of being a rebel fighter, asked for information about his neighbors, and asked for information on specific individuals. Every time he gave an unsatisfactory answer, the soldiers beat and kicked him. They also put psychological pressure on him, threatening to blow him up with a grenade. Zubaev said the interrogation lasted for about twenty minutes and ended abruptly. That same night, the procedure was repeated at 3:00 a.m. Over the next three days, Zubaev and the other detainees in his pit underwent the same procedure approximately three times per day.
On June 28, the soldiers started taking Zubaev and his fellow detainees out of the pit, saying, "You have lived your life (vy svoe otzhili)," and loaded them into a car. The soldiers took away two of the detainees, a young Chechen and an elderly Russian from Chernoreche. Zubaev did not know what happened to the two men. The car with Zubaev and five other detainees drove a short way and stopped. Zubaev thought the soldiers were taking him to an execution site. The soldiers unloaded the detainees from the car and took them down into a basement.
In the basement, the soldiers put the six men with their faces toward the wall. Then they took the plastic bags off the heads of the detainees. When the bag had been removed, Zubaev noticed that the basement was a sort of fitness center. Zubaev said the soldiers filmed him on video and then put the plastic bag on again. They then forced him to sit down and started beating him. After filming each of the six detainees, the soldiers abused the men psychologically, saying they would shoot them all with silencers. The soldiers then lowered the detainees into another pit, in the basement. Zubaev had no idea what the normal purpose for the pit was. He said it had concrete on the bottom. In the pit, Zubaev and the others realized that there were only four of them. Zubaev had no idea what had happened to the other two men. He did not know their names but said they were from Alkhan-Yurt and Gekhi.
After about thirty minutes, the soldiers pulled the detainees out of the pit and loaded them once again into a vehicle. They then drove the men into the Zavodskoi district of Grozny. There, the soldiers took off their handcuffs, dumped them, and drove away. Zubaev left Chechnya the day after his release and traveled, through Ingushetia, to an undisclosed destination in Russia to seek medical help.
Human Rights Watch interviewed "Aset Murdalova," a relative of "Musa Muradov." 123 According to her account, at about 3:00 a.m. on June 22 or 23, soldiers in an APC pulled up to Musa Muradov's house and knocked on the tall iron gate. When Muradov's wife opened the gate, the soldiers slapped her against the brick wall, and she fell down. Soldiers then hit her in the face several more times. When Muradov himself came out of the house-he had apparently been dressing-the soldiers started beating him as well. Aset Murdalova, who witnessed it all from the staircase of the house, said the soldiers beat Muradov in the face. The soldiers then took Muradov away, apparently to the military commander's office.
Human Rights Watch was unable to interview Musa Muradov himself; his relatives were too frightened to inform our researchers of his whereabouts. Relatives were also unable to provide Human Rights Watch with detailed information about his time in custody. Muradov did reportedly tell relatives that he was taken to Khankala military base. According to his relative Murdalova, others of his relatives paid a ransom for Muradov's release on the fifth day of his detention. She told Human Rights Watch that those relatives had not revealed how much they paid but had indicated to her that it was a large sum of money in U.S. dollars. Muradov was released together with several other men from Alkhan-Kala for whom ransoms had also been paid.124
Murdalova said she saw Muradov and one of the other men who were released with him when they returned home. She said Muradov's nose was severely swollen and his eyes bruised. He had to lie down because he was unable to sit, stand, or walk,125 and she said that the other man was in a similar condition. Another witness confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Muradov was in very bad condition following his release.126 All of the men who were released from Khankala military base that day apparently left Chechnya immediately, out of fear of being detained again and to seek medical help elsewhere.
117 Human Rights Watch interview with "Umar Chadaev" (not his real name), Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia, July 3, 2001. Unless otherwise indicated, all other information in this section comes from "Umar Chadaev."
119 Human Rights Watch interview with "Arsen Musaev" (not the man's real name), Sleptsovsk, Ingushetia, June 29, 2001. Unless otherwise indicated, all information in this section comes from "Arsen Musaev."
121 Khattab is a Jordanian born warlord who reportedly led a contingent of Arab fighters in Chechnya. The Russian government says it has evidence linking Khattab to Osama Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with "Suleiman Zubaev" (not his real name), Nazran, Ingushetia, June 30, 2001. Unless indicated otherwise, all information from this section comes from "Suleiman Zubaev."