03/04/2011, 00.00
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North Caucasus: civilians taking up arms against extremists

by Nina Achmatova
In Kabardino-Balkaria, vigilante group sets up civilian militias to fight Muslim rebels. More violence looms on the horizon.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – With the spectre of a new wave of interethnic violence and a new call for jihad by local rebel leaders, a grassroots vigilante movement is emerging in the North Caucasus, threatening to take up arms and enforce the law “against those who kill innocent people”.

Based in Kabardino-Balkaria, the group has vowed to restore order in the mountainous Russian republic beset by escalating violence. Named ‘Black Hawks’, the civilian militia says it is opposed to Wahhabism, the radical Islamic ideology of local rebels.

“If they continue, we will kill their children," a Black Hawks member said in an interview with Ren-TV. "We'll give them a taste of their own medicine”. Locals are tired of bombings and killings, he added.

The group appears to be made of "ordinary" people, mostly relatives of slain police officers. Families of insurgents would be targeted because the militants usually fight “for the money, not their faith,” the Black Hawks claim.

On the website of the Kavkaz Center, Muslim militants claimed that the Black Hawks are actually law enforcement officers looking to terrorise the "mujahedin."

Some analysts disagree. “The FSB (Russia’s intelligence agency) doesn't like creating informal organisations,” Andrei Soldatov explained.

Still, the Black Hawks may believe they have the backing of the authorities because their emergence coincided with a call by Kabardino-Balkaria leader Arsen Kanokov last month to establish "an armed people's militia" to make the republic safer.

Meanwhile, Doku Umarov, self-proclaimed emir of the North Caucasus, on Wednesday issued a new call for jihad across Russia.

In any event, violence in the region is already up. The Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) information agency reported 41 explosions and 1 suicide bombing in Kabardino-Balkaria last year, compared with 12 explosions and no suicide bombings in 2009.

By comparison, Dagestan, the region's most turbulent republic, saw 112 explosions and 6 suicide bombings in 2010, an increase from 69 and 1 in 2009.

In Chechnya, the number of attacks dropped from 62 to 39 explosions, although there were four suicide bombings last year compared with one in 2009.

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