What Russian security services presented as a successful operation against the Islamic militants in Sunzha district of Ingushetia might turn to be one of the biggest disgraces for them. Initially the FSB claimed they killed up to 20 militants, but eventually information surfaced, that at least 4 of the killed were civilians.
In the early spring and sometimes as early as in January traditionally people in the North Caucasus go out into the mountainous forest areas to collect kind of wild garlic, that is considered to be a delicacy. Some people use it for their own needs, others for sale. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, the FSB law enforcements learned about people in the forests and instead of sending in the troops, they sent in helicopters and as it was hard for the helicopters to distinguish between the militants and the civilians they killed everyone they detected. The claims have additional weight as the official spokesperson for Ingushetia’s president Kaloy Ahilgov confirmed there were four deaths among the civilians.
According to the militants website kavkacenter.com, there were no insurgents in the area at all, so all killed – FSB gave numbers of 11, 14, 18 and 20 – were civilians, mostly of last grade school ages. According to Kavkazcenter, the FSB launched a massive mop up operation detaining over 200 people, that were thoroughly interrogated, beaten up and tortured, some of them died.
FSB spokesman denied any casualties among the civilians in the area, claiming that all 14 people who were killed were militants. However, president of Ingushetia Yevkurov on his official website talks about 18 killed militants. So the discrepancy in numbers remains an issue.
Given the limited amount of information, it is safe to conclude, that some civilian casualties took place in Ingushetia. The more stubbornly Moscow denies them, the more exasperation it will produce among the local population. So even moderates will be glad to witness, if the radical Ingush elements retaliate.