On March 21 in Dagestan, Russian police forces effectively sealed off an entire block in the capital city of Makhachkala sometime in the early morning hours and proceeded to carry out an intense mission to root out suspected Islamist militants in an apartment complex.

While reports have varied somewhat and timelines differ from one source to the next, a gunfight eventually ensued. When the smoke cleared, six militants were reported dead. An interesting sequence in the mission occurred when the operation was halted as Russian security force personnel took a small child from the besieged building and carried it to safety.

The mother of the child apparently remained behind and was subsequently killed:

Four and a half hours after the start of the special operation, the police called on the militants and the members of their families to surrender, including a child and a woman. “To avoid the threat to their lives and wellbeing, the police decided to start negotiations and convince the criminals to surrender,” local media reported. “As a result, they let a child leave, whose is now out of danger. However, the police failed to persuade the woman to leave the surrounded apartment.” (Riadagestan.ru, March 21) (Mairbek Vatchagaev, The Jamestown Foundation, March 26)

The most recent raid is just the latest in a protracted war between the Russian government and a Northern Caucasian group dominated by Dagestani and Chechen separatists. Many of these militants draw a direct lineage to those who fought two previous major wars against Moscow. They are now in the midst of another campaign against the domination of Moscow: one to establish what they have termed the Caucasus Emirate.

Dagestan and links to recent suicide bombings

A predominantly Muslim region in the Northeast Caucasus, Dagestan has been the site of several high-profile Russian security force raids and operations in recent years. Most Americans remain largely unfamiliar with the region, though some will associate it with Chechnya and the wars fought there in the two and a half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Others will associate Dagestan with Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two ethnic Chechen brothers who carried out the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The Tsarnaevs grew up in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, but moved to Makhachkala, Dagestan in 2001.

Anna Nemtsova, a Russian reporter, has written extensively on the conflict in Dagestan. In 2012, while writing for Foreign Policy Magazine, she profiled what she termed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘secret war’ and highlighted the Russian government’s targeting of Salafist Dagestanis through raids and operations in the mountainous Northeastern Caucasus republic. Dagestan’s conflict appears in some ways to be self-propelling and one driven simultaneously by a confluence of poverty, Islamic fundamentalism, ethnic-based nationalism, and repressive security tactics by Russian forces.

In 2013, Nemtsova contributed another piece on Dagestan for Foreign Policy Magazine, this time focusing on the region’s rising Islamist insurgency and the ‘election’ of Putin loyalist Ramazan Abdultipov to the office of president in Dagestan. She writes of the Russian security forces crackdown: