Blood in the Caucasus

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The violence never stops in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Here, in this mountainous republic of Russia,federal forces are fighting an increasingly brutal battle against a growing and determined Islamic insurgency. As Anna Nemtsova writes in FP, "In recent years, the region has been the scene of a vicious cycle of violence and repression: police and special forces have arrested thousands of young Salfists throughout the North Caucasus republics, which in turn has driven more young men -- and increasingly women -- to various jihadist groups that aim to establish an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus." But, away from the headlines, the conflict is taking its toll on ordinary people and families.

Every month sees new killings and abductions. Often, family members claim their loved ones have no links to the militants, and it is frequently unclear what crimes, if any, they are being so severely punished for. There is a seeming randomness about the extrajudicial killings, as if a stray word here, or a rumor there, is enough to invite a visit by shadowy men in camouflage. Here's a look at the toll of the region's spiraling violence.

Above, Dzhenet Achalimova, 25, stands with her two children in her bedroom. Achalimova claims that her husband, Magomed Nasibov, 31, along with his cousin of the same name, Magomed Nasibov, 21, were abducted and killed near the tiny village of Kirov-al-ul by men in camouflage. The violence and abductions in the region are unseen by most Russians, who have little contact with the restive region. "To most Russians, the scene would probably look more like Syria or Libya than their own country. State television rarely broadcasts images or even official comments about the increasing human rights abuses by federal security service or police in Dagestan," reports Nemtsova.


Achalimova prays at home as her daughter looks on.


Male worshippers pray at the weekly prayer session at the central mosque in Makhachkala, the largest city in the Dagestan region. While most people are more familiar with the separatist movement in neighboring Chechnya, the Washington Post reported in September of 2011 that "now, it is the traditionally independent and Muslim Dagestanis whose resentments are turning violent, finding expression in a conservative form of Islam taking root in the beautiful severity of the mountain landscape."


Women remove their shoes before prayer at the central mosque in Makhachkala.

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Locals survey a damaged building on one of the central streets in Makhachkala, after three car bombs, believed to be the work of the insurgency, ripped through a major city block on Sept. 21, 2011, wounding 50 people and killing six.


Khadizhat Nasibova holds up a mobile phone with a picture of her son, Magomed Nasibov, 21, displayed on the screen. He died in July of 2010. Nasibova says she witnessed the murder of her son and nephew by men in camoflauge not far from her home in the small village of Kirov-al-ul.

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Khalipat Magomedova holds her daughter's domestic passport outside her home in the village of Sulak. Magomedova says her daughter, Aminat Magomedova, 21, who was disabled, was killed and her body burned during a "special operation" conducted by Russian federal services.

A member of the Dagestani security forces stands guard outside a central building in Makhachkala. The shootings of policemen have grown shockingly common: As Nemtsova reports, "254 Russian police officers died in insurgency-related incidents last year, far more than the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan."


Students in a hallway at an Islamic university in downtown Makhachkala.


A young Dagestani girl stands in front of her family.


An female class on safety at the Theological University in Makhachkala. The former rector of the university, Maksud Sadikov, was killed in June 2010 by Islamic extremists for his moderate religious views.


The busy streets of downtown Makhachkala in winter.


The central mosque in Makhachkala seen through a car window.

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