In what has become a routine event in Russia's restless southern province of Dagestan, a shootout took place in a village on the outskirts of the capital, Makhachkala. The incident turned out to be more than just the usual standoff between cops and Islamic militants, however. In the aftermath, Russia’s National Anti-Terror Committee (NAC) released a statement claiming that one of the militants was none other than Dmitry Sokolov, the mastermind behind last month’s Volgograd bus bombing which was allegedly carried out by his wife. The NAK reported [ru] that in the course of action five men were killed, and Sokolov admitted his guilt in the bombing.
The story shortly took a strange turn, when Russian journalist and radio personality Yulia Latynina claimed [ru] a different series of events took place. During her weekly radio program Latynina said that Sokolov was in fact detained by local citizens earlier in the week, and was turned over to the police. She also claimed that after this incident failed to make it into the news, a local source told her that the police would probably end up “killing” the man as a result of a “special forces op.”
Anonymous blogger hardingush [Global Voices report], a Russian special forces soldier operating with an anti-terrorist team in the North Caucasus who blogs about his experiences there, challenged [ru] Latynina in a blog post, questioning her claims that Sokolov was easily detained by locals while he was out in a public place, and not even wearing a suicide belt (i.e. unprofessional). In fact, hardingush went as far as to claim that she, or someone else, made up the initial report — possibly due to fog of war:
Понимаете, Юля, после каждого ОБМ [оперативно-боевое мероприятие — ed.], в котором я участвовал, в интернете появлялись свидетельства очевидцев. Все эти свидетельства были столь же абсурдны, как и ваша история о мифическом знакомом из Махачкалы. Если бы кого-то гражданские задержали после терракта и передали бы сотрудникам полиции (на вашем журналистском языке – ментам), то весь Дагестан бы гудел об этом до сих пор.
You see, Yulia, after every Operational Combat Action in which I have participated, eyewitness accounts appeared on the internet. All of these accounts were as as absurd as your story about the mythical acquaintance from Makhachkala. If someone was detained by civilians after a terrorist attack and given over to the police (or to “cops” in your journalistic parlance), all of Daghestan would have been buzzing about it until now.
Latynina's Echo Moskvy colleague Vladimir Varfolomeev reposted [ru] Latynina’s story on his blog, and most of the comments he received reflected growing cynicism with Russian law enforcement officials. Many sarcastically commented on the alleged fact that Sokolov had confessed to the Volgograd bombing:
Главное, перед смертью по телефону успел взять на себя ответственность за взрыв в Волгограде!
The most important thing is that before he died he had the time to take responsibility for the explosion in Volgograd over the phone!
Others were also skeptical of Latynina’s story:
А почему вы об этом сразу не написали, а стали ждать “сообщений об этом по новостям”?
And why didn’t you write about this right away, but waited for “reports about this on the news”?
We may never find out how Sokolov found his end. But the opaque nature of routine counter-terror operations only encourages the conspiracy theories in which the Russian blogosphere takes so much delight.