A Russian prosecutor's statement that Kazakhs may have been involved in the bloody siege in Beslan has prompted an official Kazakh request for clarification. At the same time, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called for increased security measures at home. The backdrop to these unfolding events is a purported post-Soviet terrorist international that remains as elusive as it is troubling.
Soviet officialdom always took visible pride in the multiethnic composition of the great communist experiment. For while the workers of the world may have no homeland, as Karl Marx famously averred, their varied languages and colorful customs were grist for a propaganda mill that churned out endless accounts of peaceful coexistence in the service of a unifying idea. Today, in the wake of the horrifying events in Beslan, official Russian statements have at times reflected a nightmarish inversion of the Soviet ideal. If many ethnicities once united to build communism, now embittered individuals of various backgrounds come together under the umbrella of international terrorism.
Russian officials have maintained that the hostage takers who seized a school in Beslan represented a veritable "Terrorist International," "Russkii kurer" reported on September 8. Various statements and reports have mentioned Chechens, Ingush, Arabs, a Russian, an Ossetian, Ukrainians, Tatars, Koreans, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and even a mysterious "black man." The latter appears to have been a misidentified charred, or decomposed, body. References to others have been vague. At a September 6 briefing, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii said that the terrorists were a multinational group that included "Chechens, Tatars, Kazakhs and Koreans," RIA-Novosti reported. He gave no names, but promised that they would be forthcoming.
After Deputy Prosecutor-General Fridinskii alluded to the presence of Kazakhs among the hostage takers, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service talked with Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Mukhtar Karibaev. Karibaev said that the Foreign Ministry had sent a note to Russia's Foreign Ministry requesting a clarification of Fridinskii's statement. Karibaev continued, "There has been no official confirmation of that statement [by Mr. Fridinskii] yet. According to information at the disposal of our Embassy in Moscow, there were Chechens and Ingush born in Kazakhstan among the terrorists. In general, it is possible to say that the majority of those Chechens and Ingush among the terrorists who were older than 30 were Kazakhstan-born persons, since, as you know, all the Chechens and Ingush were deported to Kazakhstan by Stalin in the 1940s, and there are many of them still living here. But there are no grounds to connect that fact with the terrorist attack itself."
But even before the deputy prosecutor-general suggested the involvement of Kazakhs in the Beslan terror attack, events in North Ossetia were resonating in Kazakhstan. The day after the hostage standoff began, Kazakh President Nazarbaev called on his country's special forces and Interior Ministry to work more effectively to prevent terrorist and extremist activities, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The president also noted the need for a full list of extremist organizations active in Kazakhstan. At the same time, security measures were stepped up across the country and secondary schools and universities were put under police control.
On September 7, Nazarbaev pressed on with his calls for increased vigilance at a meeting of Kazakhstan's women's organizations. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted him as saying, "We must pay the utmost attention to strengthening our country's defense and security. The people should remember that we must spend more money now on our safety, on strengthening our defense, on the fight against drug trafficking, on preventive measures against the spread of terrorism." At a September 8 cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, citing recent events in Russia, charged law-enforcement authorities with developing proposals to improve national security, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Participants in the meeting also noted President Nazarbaev's recent remarks to the Security Council, in which he asked officials to take "effective measures to prevent terrorist and extremist activities, create an efficient crisis-management system to coordinate the work of government agencies, and introduce new technologies into systems for guarding the borders and controlling migration."
Meanwhile, more details came to light about the alleged Kazakh role in the Beslan tragedy. Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported on September 8, citing a source in the investigation, that one of the terrorists was, in fact, an ethnic Kazakh with Russian citizenship. The article noted that Russian investigators may turn to their Kazakh counterparts for information if it emerges that the individual, who was killed in the violence, was born in Kazakhstan or lived there for a time.
Kazakhs were not the only residents of Central Asia to receive mention in connection with the carnage in Beslan. In remarks broadcast on Russia's state RTR television network on September 6, captured hostage taker Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole surviving attacker, said that the armed group that seized the school included Chechens, Arabs and Uzbeks, "Vremya novostei" reported. The newspaper noted, however, that Kulaev had claimed in comments televised earlier that he did not know the nationalities of his co-conspirators. When "Vremya novostei" queried the Uzbek Foreign Ministry about the claim, a spokesperson said that Uzbek officials "have not heard anything about there being Uzbeks among the terrorists."
More details are sure to appear about the alleged "Kazakh" involvement in Beslan. Whether forthcoming information confirms or refutes the initial statement by Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Fridinskii, it appears that Kazakh authorities, from the president on down, are determined to tighten security in the wake of the bloodshed in North Ossetia.
And their concerns are hardly unique. A summit of CIS leaders that begins in Astana, Kazakhstan, on September 15 will likely focus significant attention on the fight against terror throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbaev already agreed in a September 6 telephone conversation to use the summit to discuss concrete measures to combat religious extremism and international terrorism, Kazinform reported. Meanwhile, we can only guess at the extent of unofficial cooperation in the murky world of former Soviet citizens across the ethnic spectrum who have embraced violence as the best way to seek redress for their grievances.