Thursday, July 22, 2010
Suspected militants launched an attack early July 21 in Russia's Northern Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. The attackers targeted a police station in the town of Baksan, then the Baksanskaya hydroelectric plant in nearby Islamei. The attack - which damaged the power plant but created no disruptions in service - comes as Kabardino-Balkaria prepares for a critical presidential election. It also occurred months after the death of a prominent militant leader and not long before the anniversary of the militant attack in Nalchik. The attack follows the trend of Northern Caucasus militants' targets of economic significance.
Suspected militants in Russia's Northern Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria launched coordinated attacks on a local police station in the town of Baksan and the Baksanskaya hydroelectric power plant in the nearby village of Islamei early July 21. The attack on the police station resulted in minor damage to the building. However, the assault on the power plant left two private security guards dead and two technicians injured, and the turbine control room caught fire after three of four strategically placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated.
Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee claims it reviewed security camera footage from Baksanskaya and identified four attackers, though their names have yet to be released. STRATFOR sources in Moscow said the four individuals are likely linked to local militant leader Asker Dzhappuev, also known as Amir Abdullah, who heads the Yarmuk Jamaat in Kabardino-Balkaria. The targets in the July 21 attacks follow a trend STRATFOR has observed over the past two years after a Northern Caucasus militant leader ordered the militant groups to shift their target sets from those of social significance to ones with more economic value.
The suspected militants reportedly attacked the police station in Baksan at approximately 3:15 a.m. local time with grenades or small explosive devices. That attack appears to have been a diversion meant to preoccupy local authorities and first responders while the primary target, the Baksanskaya hydroelectric power plant, was attacked. Armed attackers reportedly penetrated the plant's security perimeter shortly after 5 a.m., shooting and killing two private security guards before taking their firearms. The attackers then entered the turbine control room, where they reportedly tied up two technicians and tortured them for information on the location of the turbines. The militants then placed up to four IEDs on three turbines and the oil switchboard (which keeps the turbines properly lubricated). The first blast came at approximately 5:25 a.m., and the next came 20 minutes later. The IED planted on the oil switchboard caused oil to leak and catch fire after the third explosion. The resulting fire reportedly consumed two stories of the facility housing the turbines and control room and was not extinguished until 8:30 a.m. Authorities located and removed the fourth IED, which Federal Security Service personnel safely destroyed.
RusHydro authorities have said three of the turbines will be offline for approximately six weeks for repairs, but there will not be interruption in electricity service in the surrounding regions. The Baksanskaya plant produced a relatively small amount of electricity (about 25 megawatts). Additionally, the plant had notoriously poor security: At any given time, two security guards have been on duty. Also, the plant has received threats as early as 2005.
The timing of the attack is critical. Kabardino-Balkaria is two months away from an important presidential election, and the attack is likely to help determine who Moscow chooses as the republic's leader. Also, Anzor Astemirov, Dzhappuev's predecessor, was killed in March, which means the attack could have been a retaliatory strike. Furthermore, the fifth anniversary of the Yarmuk Jamaat attack at Nalchik - the largest militant assault in Kabardino-Balkaria and one of the most notorious attacks in the Caucasus - is approaching, so anniversary attacks could be starting.
As STRATFOR has noted before, it is incredibly difficult, even for a conventional military force, to significantly damage large infrastructure such as a dam. While Northern Caucasus militants have claimed to have attacked the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam in Siberia (far from their normal target sets in the Northern Caucasus and Moscow), it was nothing more than a malfunctioning electric transformer that blew up, leading to a breach in the dam. The July 21 attack on the Baksanskaya plant appears to show that Northern Caucasus militants might have reined in their ambitions and chosen a more realistic target - the infrastructure that controls the productivity of the dam. Though electrical service appears to have been uninterrupted, it has caused a significant headache for regional Russian authorities, which is in line with the orders to target Russia economically.
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