Two crosses fashioned from red roses mark the spot where a car bomb killed three people last December in Pyatigorsk, Russia, roughly 170 miles east of Sochi. Just weeks later, assailants murdered six local men and left their bodies in cars surrounded by explosives on the edge of the city.
The violence has rattled the Stavropol region, the only predominantly Slavic area of the North Caucasus. It has also focused attention on local Cossacks, an arch-nationalist element dedicated to upholding Russian authority and thwarting a radical Islamic insurgency that has claimed hundreds in the last two years.
“How can we forgive them for this?” asked 61-year-old Yuri Churekov, the chief, or ataman, of an unregistered group called the Caucasus Line Cossack Host. Churekov was referring to Islamic militants who he suspects carried out the recent attacks in Stavropol.
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Noah Sneider is a freelance journalist living in Russia.