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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: August 19, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
ISIS Takes Responsibility for Attack on Traffic Police Post Outside of Moscow; 2 Chechens Shot Dead
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ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack on a traffic police in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha on August 17, Novaya Gazeta reports, citing the SITE Intel Group

Kommersant reported that on August 17, Mikhail Balakin, one of three traffic police on duty at a post on Shchelkovskoye Highway near the turn-off for the town of Balashikha, noticed that some bearded men were standing about 50 meters away from him. He approached them and asked what they were doing, and then asked to see their IDs. Then according to another traffic policeman at the post, one of the bearded men then took an axe out of his bag and struck the first policeman. 

Seeing his colleague was injured, Lt. Nikolai Drozd took out his Makarov service pistol and shot the attacker with the axe. But the second bearded man was able to grab his pistol from him and managed to shoot not only him, but the first policeman. 

He then fled into the woods, and a third policeman, Lt. Valery Pankov, ran after him. He wasn't able to catch him, but one of the shots he fired proved deadly.

Officers Balakin and Drozd suffered serious wounds and were hospitalized.

A report by the online news outlet 360 said a source gave the policemen's names as "Sergei B., Konstantin Z., and Stanislav K.," but later Russian media provided their full names.

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A local reporter from the news service 360 said the Chechen with the axe was shot dead, and a second Chechen was wounded and taken to the hospital and evidently died there. He also indicated there may be a third Chechen who escaped. Two police were wounded, he said. 360 reported later [GRAPHIC] that one of the policemen is in critical condition following surgery.

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Police stand at a traffic post on Shchelkovskoye Highway near the town of Balashikha, site of a shootout between police and militants August 17, 2016
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When police later examined the bodies of the two Chechens shot, they found a receipt in the pants pocket of one of the them. This turned out to be a receipt for axes, which were purchased 20 minutes previously in Balashikha, at a camping and athletic equipment store on Sverdlova Street. From there, the two Chechens had gone along the Balashikha Highway until it crossed Shchelkovskoye Highway, the location of the traffic police post. 

The store surveillance tape obtained by 360 shows the two Chechens clearly buying axes. One man in a red jacket stares right into the camera, and even removes his hood and looks at the camera some more before purchasing an axe.

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At first, police thought perhaps the Chechens were working at construction nearby in some private home, and perhaps had been sent to the store to buy the axes.

But after sweeping the area, they found two knapsacks in the woods about 20 meters behind the traffic police post. Inside were personal items such as shorts, headphones, and lighters as well as passports. They turned out to belong to Usman Murdalov, age 21, and Sulim Israilov, age 18, natives of Achkoy-Martanovsky District in Chechnya.

Now law-enforcers believe the Chechens had left their packs in the woods and came out on the road with the axes, intending to attack the post and seize the policemen's weapons. They believe they deliberately drew attention the policeman's attention to themselves, hoping to deal with him quickly.

360 believes that the Chechens didn't realize until it was too late that there were three, and not two policemen at the post. 

ISIS released a video allegedly of the two attackers in Balashikha, calling for more violence. The men in the video are wearing red and blue jackets, respectively, just as the men in the store surveillance video.

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Militants in video released by Amaq news agency claimed by ISIS to be two attackers in Barsikha.
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The question is why they needed to steal the policemen's weapons, asks Kommersant. According to one hypothesis being investigated by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Chechens were part of an underground armed group.

While dozens of drivers passed the scene, fortunately none of them were struck by stray bullets. Police cordoned off the highway and a major traffic jam developed. 

The August 17 incident outside of Moscow was the first of two violent clashes with police this week that seemed to indicate that the wars in the North Caucasus are coming home to Moscow. The second was a shoot-out in St. Petersburg yesterday, August 18 where FSB spetsnaz shot dead 4 suspected terrorists from Kabardino-Balkaria. Today, authorities identified the fourth militant killed in an apartment block on Leninsky Avenue.

Stories like these occur nearly every other week in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Cherkassia, and less often in Chechnya. Police announce a "KTO" -- a counter-terrorism operation -- lock down neighborhoods, and go in and shoot militants who usually refuse to come out of buildings with their hands up. Sometimes women and children are allowed to leave the homes first. Police in convoys or at checkpoints have been knifed, shot or bombed this year.

Increasingly, ISIS has taken responsibility for these attacks. In recent years, the Kremlin has estimated the number of fighters from Russia in ISIS as 2,700. 

Last November, Oleg Syromolot, deputy minister for counter-terrorism, said 2,179 Russian citizens had joined ISIS, and 160 of them had been killed in the war. Then in March, President Vladimir Putin said "2,000" fighters from Russia in ISIS had been killed, including 17 field commanders. FSB officials and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said they were not allowing any of the fighters remaining back into Russia. But it is not known how many remain in Syria and Iraq and how many have returned.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick