'Black Hawk' vigilantes emerge in Russian Caucasus

4th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A mysterious renegade group that declared an armed fight against Russia's Caucasus militants received backing from a federal official Friday amid concern over the escalating conflict in the region.

Observers have been puzzled by the appearance of Black Hawks, who emerged in mountainous Kabardino-Balkaria last month with a dramatic promise to destroy "bearded Islamists" on an eye-for-an-eye principle.

Three 'anti-Wahhabi' fighters debuted in a video message in February wearing black ninja-like outfits with only small holes for the eyes.

"These animals... shoot and bomb police, their own neighbours, men, women, old and young," one says in a modified voice about the militants, "for them, blood is cheaper than water. They are not judges, they are executioners."

The group has distributed fliers and appeared to be behind an attack on a house of a suspected militant's family in early February. A note was left nearby promising to "destroy" them if he killed another person.

"If they continue (killing our children), we will kill their children," a group member told Ren-TV channel in Kabardino-Balkaria town Chegem last week.

Despite the call for violence, senator Alexander Torshin, who sits on the national anti-terrorist committee, called the underground group "decent people" whose threat to eliminate militants is "wholly natural".

"(The Black Hawks) is a youth organization" whose members "want to live by civilised laws, not by the radical religious Islamic rules," he told Interfax in an interview Friday.

The police "should not fight these decent people" but "use them", he added.

Kabardino-Balkaria, a relatively peaceful and prosperous Caucasus region, has seen an unprecedented escalation of violence in recent months, with militants ambushing a group of Russian tourists, blowing up a ski lift, and attacking the capital Nalchik in one recent week.

The Kremlin fought two wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring regions.

© 2011 AFP

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