The Federal Security Service on Tuesday captured a high-profile rebel leader and police mole in the Chelyabinsk region, a day after 500 law enforcement officers conducted a raid against him and suspected terrorists in neighboring Bashkortostan.
That operation in Ufa was one of the largest raids against suspected militants in recent years, particularly in an urban center outside the North Caucasus, but it went largely unnoticed amid the media attention on the twin suicide bombings in the Moscow metro.
Bashir Pliyev, a 44-year-old ethnic Ingush, known among rebels as the emir of Bashkiria, escaped the initial operation but was detained by FSB officers on Tuesday, Interfax reported, citing local security officials.
Ingush authorities say Pliyev was close to reputed Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, who was killed by federal troops in 2006. Authorities twice reported Pliyev killed, including after the September 2004 siege of School No. 1 in Beslan.
Authorities in the restive North Caucasus republic say Pliyev took part in a Basayev-led siege there in 2004, during which some 300 rebels briefly took control of Nazran, Ingushetia's largest city. At the time, Pliyev was working in the local police's internal security department, a post that he used to tip off rebels to sensitive information and even to drive Basayev in his police car.
Pliyev is also wanted in the southern republic of Bashkortostan, between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, for organizing the March 23 armed robbery of a wholesale food store 250 kilometers from the capital, Ufa. Two workers who resisted the attack were seriously wounded, Interfax reported.
On Monday, Bashkir law enforcement officials detained eight members of the local Uigur Bulagaar Jamaat group controlled by Pliyev, which authorities accuse of terrorism.
A spokesman for the local Interior Ministry told The Moscow Times that the operation was mostly carried out by the federal security forces, although hundreds of local police officers played a supporting role.
“We even had an armored car up our sleeves, since we were dealing with extremely dangerous people,” he said.
One of the suspected terrorists attempted to hide in a hospital and take staff hostage, but police managed to capture him after he barricaded himself in a room.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the suspected rebel captured at the hospital, Alexander Yashin, 27, was wounded. There were no other reports of casualties.
Maxim Rodionov, a spokesman for Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry, told reporters Monday that extremist literature, passports and explosives were discovered at apartments that belonged to members of the group.
As a result of the raids, "one of the persistent financing channels for terrorist activity was eliminated, and the kidnapping of the son of a major Russian businessman in the energy sector has been solved," the Bashkir branch of the FSB told Interfax, without elaborating.
In February, investigators said they captured in Ingushetia a suspect in the 2009 kidnapping of Mikhail Stavsky's son, who was later released.vice president
Albert Miftakhov, an independent political analyst in Bashkortostan, told The Moscow Times that the operation was a success for local Interior Ministry officials.
The ministry's head, Igor Alyoshin, was appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev in December 2008 and has begun to act independently of Bashkortostan Republic President Murtaza Rakhimov, Miftakhov said.
The presence of radical Islamic groups in Bashkortostan, a largely secular Muslim republic, went unnoticed by local officials for a long time, even though many of them had strong ties to rebels in the North Caucasus, he said.
“The ruling authorities saw many of the anti-Russian groups as friends. What goes around, comes around,” Miftakhov said.