Terrorist assault on Nalchik - the most extensive terrorist assault ever carried out on a whole city – was not the last

DEBKAfile Intelligence

October 14, 2005

Putin gave shoot to kill orders and had the town sealed off Thursday afternoon, Oct. 13, hours after some 300 terrorists swept through the capital of the Caucasian Muslim republic of Kabardino-Balkaria bordering on Chechnya and mounted simultaneous raids on 3 police headquarters, federal military bases, a gun store and the regional airport. The police HQ caught fire, another police building was besieged and hostages were taken. Some of the casualties are civilians. All schools were evacuated.

Russian federal troops and special forces supported by combat helicopters and armed vehicles engaged the terrorists in clashes during the day. Nalchik regional airport was closed.

DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that the Islamist terrorists seized sizeable quantities of weapons in their raids on police stations and armories. As night fell some withdrew to the forests around Nalchik with their looted weapons. Others mounted a second wave of attacks on the embattled Caucasian town.

The Nalchik Wahhabi cell of al Qaeda is notably dangerous and ruthless. It provided the jumping off base for the raiders who besieged the Beslan school a year ago, leaving 332 dead, most children.

After than attack, on Sept. 13, 2004, DEBKAfile reported that the small, out-of-the- way province of Kabardino-Balkaria (est. pop. one million) attracted an al Qaeda presence from 2002 when American bases went up in Georgia. Its leaders decided to counter the US presence by establishing a strategic base in the Muslim Northern Caucasus, the southwestern region of the Russian Federation.

Most of the province’s inhabitants are ethnic Circassian Muslims. The unrecorded chapter of the Chechen intelligence war of the 1990s relates how the Circassian community of Jordan, which was the security buttress of the Hashemite throne, was used by US, British and French intelligence as a pipeline into the Chechen breakaway movement for close surveillance of its conflict with Russia. Al Qaeda, which tracks and meets every American intelligence move connected with the global war on terror, countered by going into the remote and relatively affluent Kabardino-Balkaria to quietly acquire its own Circassian asset.

Until early 2005, the Kabardino-Balkaria cells were the rear bases of the Saudi Wahhabis fighting in the Chechen rebellion against Russia. They were also used for trading intelligence and weapons. But then the Saudi fighters moved out of Chechnya to join Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s terrorist ranks in Iraq. Al Qaeda then promoted the Nalchik Wahhabi cell to become its leading Caucasian base.