Young Men Vanishing in Russian Region
Prosecutor Probing Role of Secret Police Is Among the Missing in Ingushetia
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 6, 2004; Page A20
NAZRAN, Russia -- The young men started disappearing a few months ago, one by one, often with no trace. Prosecutor Rashid Ozdoyev suspected a dark conspiracy: Maybe the abductions were the work not of ordinary criminal gangs but of Russia's top law enforcement agency.
Then Ozdoyev himself disappeared. Shortly after he got off an airplane from Moscow, where he had delivered a report criticizing alleged abuses by the agency, the Federal Security Service, Ozdoyev climbed into his car, drove off and has not been seen since.
The case has sent a chill through the southern region of Ingushetia, already anxious because of the recent wave of kidnappings and violence. The search for the missing prosecutor has turned up nothing; the investigation has gone nowhere. No one at the security service has been interviewed. And some of Ozdoyev's nervous fellow prosecutors said they assume the security service snatched their whistle-blowing colleague to shut him up, yet they feel powerless to do anything about it.
"It looks like the special services took him," Mikhail Akhiliyev, a friend and fellow prosecutor, said in a hushed conversation in a corridor of the prosecutor's office building, where that is not the official theory. "Everybody says we don't know anything. It's like a wall. There's no Rashid."
A spokesman for the agency, known by its Russian initials FSB, disputed allegations that it was behind the disappearance. But that has not quieted suspicions, drawing new attention to the evolving role in Russian society of this domestic successor of the KGB. The agency has been amassing new powers in the four years since its former director, Vladimir Putin, became president of Russia.
In places like Ingushetia, right next door to the war-ravaged region of Chechnya, the FSB increasingly operates with impunity, largely unchallenged by the local government, which is headed by a former KGB officer and Putin ally. At least 40 men have disappeared in the last six months, mostly members of the Ingush and Chechen ethnic groups, according to human rights activists who said they suspect involvement by the security service.
"We have a Bermuda Triangle here," said a stout bodyguard for another Ingush prosecutor, a handgun tucked into his belt. In reality, he confided, far more than 40 people have disappeared. He asked not to be identified: "We watch what we say. The less we say, the safer it is."
The only person who seems to be aggressively looking for Rashid Ozdoyev is his father, Boris, who is convinced that his 27-year-old son fell victim to the FSB and that no one else wants to prod too hard out of fear that they would be next. "It's absolutely outrageous," said Boris Ozdoyev. "The power of the FSB is enormous."
"How do they differ from terrorists?" he asked, complaining that FSB agents operate outside the law. "The only difference is they have a state krysha," a Russian term for "roof" that has come to mean mafia-style protection.
Boris Ozdoyev, 60, is no anti-establishment radical. A judge for two decades in Soviet times and later a member of Ingushetia's regional parliament, Ozdoyev and his family have devoted their lives to maintaining order in their oil-rich mountainous region. A second son is an officer of the FSB.
When Rashid disappeared in March, he had 10 years of government service and had risen to be the chief prosecutor's deputy. Working in a modest office at the end of the hall on the third floor of the prosecutor's headquarters, he had filed three reports sharply critical of the FSB in the previous six months, according to his father, who said he urged him not to do so for his own safety.
One of the reports -- a two-page memo sent to Col. Sergei Koryakov, local head of the FSB, late last year and reviewed by a reporter -- accused the agency of dropping the ball on investigating three explosions in Ingushetia in 2002. The FSB is sometimes accused of staging terrorist acts for political reasons, then covering up its involvement.
The most recent report, according to Boris Ozdoyev, was a 14-page paper outlining FSB abuses. His son delivered it to Moscow, then flew back to Ingushetia on March 11. He brought with him a DVD of "The Last Emperor" and planned to drive to the home of his friend, Mikhail Akhiliyev, to watch it. He never made it.
"We drove around, asking around. Nothing," said Akhiliyev. "No car. No him."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company