Militants get at Russia from Georgian territory - 27 September, 2002

In the Ingush village of Galashki, the federal troops are still striving to eliminate what is left of a large Chechen bandit unit, which invaded the village after getting across the Russian-Georgian border on Thursday. By the account of the Ingush interior ministry, Galashki was attacked by a group of more than 200 militants, mainly Arab mercenaries. Previous to that, the mercenaries had effortlessly made their way into Georgia, a country whose authorities apparently find nothing wrong with the fact that there are training camps for international terrorists on their territory. The bandits were well-armed and equipped with portable air defence systems.

The battle involved the 19th Division of Russia's interior ministry troops and the intelligence service of the 58th Army led by Lieutenant-General Valery Gerasimov, who killed and wounded about 40 militants and took several prisoners. The federal forces lost 14 people dead, according to the Russian defence ministry.

During the fight, the militants shot down a Mi-24 helicopter of the federal forces. Anatoly Kvashnin, the head of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, said the helicopter was downed with five shots fired from a portable air defence system.

The militants also killed a local woman by the name of Arapkhanova, whom they shot to death.

The information of the Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky that the gang had come from Georgia was confirmed by Chechen captives, who said they had undergone training in camps based in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. They also said there were about 100 more militants on the Russian-Georgia border, waiting to invade the Russian territory.

In all, the federal forces captured six militants, two of them Arabs.

According to Yastrzhembsky's account, the gang (which included mercenaries from Britain, Turkey, Georgia and the Arab countries) was guided across the Georgian-Russian border by a Georgian and then led on by an Ingush. Among the militants killed in the clash was one John Scott, who had a British passport. He wore a NATO uniform and looked much like the rest of the gang. Presumably, he was a TV reporter.

Different sources said the bandit unit was fronted by one Vitaly Smirnov, a Chechen native aged 25 or 26, who is better known as Abu Malik - a name he took when converting to Islam in Khattab's armed unit five years ago. Rumours said Smirnov joined the militants after having failed to enter a police school.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was in Warsaw at the time of the clash, commented by saying that Russia's patience might be exhausted if the fact that the militants had arrived from the territory of Georgia was confirmed.

On his part, the Russian presidential aide could neither confirm nor disprove the information the report that said the Ingush territory was invaded by Ruslan Gelayev's gang. The information still had to be checked, he noted.

The military participating in the clash said about half of the gang had been eliminated. They also said there were Arabs among the dead militants.

The Ingush interior ministry reported that the clash had claimed the lives of 20 soldiers.

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Author`s name Petr Ermilin