Truth and Lies in Terrorism Case in Astrakhan: Torture, Planting Weapons, Fabrication of Charges

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Human Rights Center Memorial

Jun 27, 2012, 11:06:44 AM6/27/12

Truth and Lies in Terrorism Case in Astrakhan: Torture, Planting Weapons, Fabrication of Charges

On May 29, 2012, the hearing of the case of Musa Yasulov, Aleksei Antonov, Shamil Bagandov and Ruslan Belkin-Yablukov, arrested during anti-terrorist measures in Astrakhan in May 2011, began in Astrakhan district court. Immediately after the arrest of the suspects, Secret Services told reporters that the Islamists were supposedly preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in Astrakhan, on May 9, 2011, and that they were prevented at the last moment.

According to law enforcement agencies, all of the defendants shot during the arrest on May 7, 2011, as well as Andrei Antonov (Umar), were "followers of radical Islam", who in March, 2011, created an armed group in order to "attack law enforcement officers, carry out terrorist acts and armed attacks to terrorize the population of Astrakhan, the Astrakhan region, and adjacent regions, and to influence government and law enforcement agencies in these regions. "

Musa Yasulov, a 35-year-old native of Kazakhstan, was sentenced by Volgograd district court on September 30, 2011, to 12 years in prison, on charges of organizing, together with "Umar", an explosion next to the fence of the State Road Safety Inspectorate building in the early morning of April 26, 2011, and of laying an explosive device near the Police Academy in Volgograd .

In the "Astrakhan case," all defendants stand accused of banditry and illegal possession of weapons; Belkin-Yablukov is also accused of planning the assassination of a law enforcement officer, while Musa Yasulov faces charges for robbery and planning an act of terrorism.

During the course of the investigation, relatives and friends of the defendants have repeatedly filed complaints about the use of torture and the fabricated nature of the charges. According to them, the defendants were not a single group; some of them did not know each other, or did not maintain close relationships. Even a cursory reading reveals the questionable nature of certain of the indictment's formulations. One such example is the assertion that the "Vakhabits" allegedly sought from the authorities "to create favorable socio-economic conditions for those who adhere to the ideas of radical Islam, and thus to demonstrate the superiority of these people and their way of life over the rest Russian society." There is still much uncertainty about the circumstances of the death of Andrei Antonov, shot by police during the arrest while allegedly trying to put up armed resistance.

Shortly before the start of the trial in Astrakhan, the defendant Musa Yasulov passed on a letter from prison, in which he gives a detailed description of the illegal methods of the investigation and the fabrication of charges. Yasulov admits his involvement in some crimes, while at the same time describing how the investigatory authorities created a fictional version of the act of terrorism supposedly being planned in May 2011 in Astrakhan.

Here is Yasulov's letter, with some minor cuts:

"I, Musa Baskhanovich Yasulov, am currently in prison (Detention Facility 1) in the city of Astrakhan. I have written complaints and appealed through many channels, but without results, since neither my statements, nor my complaints, nor even letters to my wife are let out of Detention Facility 1. I made a statement to the Volgograd press, but my words were misrepresented.

I would like to tell you what actually happened, and what is still happening, during the investigation of my case. You have probably heard that in early May 2011, a terrorist group was detained  in Astrakhan, and that I was arrested while attempting to carry out an act of terrorism with a “shakhid” belt near the supermarket "Lenta"- although in actual fact the cartridge of a Kalashnikov assault rifle with ammunition was planted on me.  

It all started with a call from my brother in faith, Umar (Andrei Antonov), who said that the police department employees were looking for him at his residence. I told him to take the weapon that he had and to come to me, or to "go on the run". He replied, "Brother, I have a wife and son, I have no one to leave them with"; he was not going to run anywhere. After about 10 minutes I got an SMS from his number: "Brother, do you have any money?" I replied, "Yes." He asked me to buy rubber boots, two sizes too large, in order to wear them with shoes. I said, "I'll buy them." It was already about 7 p.m., my wife had just come home from work. I went to the supermarket "Lenta". When I was walking towards the door of the supermarket, a UAZ car drove up to me and a SWAT team ran out of it, shouting “Lie down, or we'll bring you down!” and swearing. I lay down and put my hands behind my head. They ran up to me, kicked me a little, handcuffed me from behind, and lifted me to my feet; from behind, someone stuck something heavy and made of iron into the elastic of my tracksuit trousers. The first thought I had was that they had planted TT pistol or a "Stechkin" on me... I had a bag with me, with the keys of my apartment and my phone in it, and my wallet with money and documents. There were many people around me, that is, employees. One of them wanted to know what my exact address was, who was at home and what weapons I had there. I told him my address and said, "My wife is at home, don't touch her — she is not involved." I told him I kept a "Saiga" hunting rifle, and that there was a grenade in a small box in a plastic bag on the balcony. After that I lay on the pavement near the "Lenta" supermarket until 1 a.m — about 6 hours.

Then I was brought to the investigative committee, and that's where things got started. I was taken up to the first floor, handcuffed from behind, and thrown to the floor onto my stomach. They pushed my legs apart and began to kick me between the legs and jump on my back. I even soiled my pants, though I'm ashamed to talk about it. Then I heard somebody screaming and crying. I recognized the voice of my wife, Mariya Vasilievna Aubikerova (Mariam). They shouted "whore" at her, insulted and abused her. Then I heard her being hit. She later told me that they beat her in the stomach and kidneys, that they took away her headscarf. Then one of the employees came up to me, I remember him well. He was drunk, as many of them were. He said to me, "Hey, are you going to talk? Or shall we all have a go with your wife — she's young, not bad looking." I answered, “If you touch her, I'll rip off your head. If you're a man, take off my handcuffs and we can talk like men." He laughed and walked away.

I won't go into detail about how I was tortured, I think there's no point. After that, I heard a conversation between two employees. As I learned later, one of them was an investigator for especially important cases of the Investigative Committee, Arthur Safarov. The second man said to Safarov, "Antonov has been killed." Safarov said, "What, was that really necessary?" And the other man replied, "Orders aren't discussed, you see, just in case," and laughed. Then I was taken to Safarov’s room. That drunken employee was there, as was Safarov. The drunk one smiled and said, "Musa, this is your last warning: if you don't talk I'll fuck your wife in the ass until it hurts" (only he said it differently, using coarse language). He undid his pants and started to leave. Safarov stopped him and said, "Give us five minutes—we'll have a chat and, if he refuses to talk, you can do whatever you want." He called the guards, told them to cuff me in front, and offered me a seat and a drink of water. Then he began to talk: "Musa, why bring these things on your wife? Umar is dead anyway, so tell me everything and we will let your wife go straight away." I asked, "What do you want me to tell you?" He replied, "Who are you? Where are you from? What is your aim in coming here? What are you and Antonov doing here? And tell that the cartridge is yours and we'll videotape that. Musa, you'll see for yourself what will happen if you refuse. Oh, and by the way — Antonov has a wife as well, we'll take her, too." He smiled. I said, "Okay, fine." I knew that Umar was already dead,  nothing could harm him, but our wives were suffering and could suffer more, for nothing.

I met my wife six weeks before our arrest, and lived with her for a little over a month. She had no idea what I was doing, or that I kept weapon at home. I told them what they wanted: that I had come from Kazakhstan to find the "forest brothers"; that I had met Umar and that we had been gathering; that the cartridge was mine, and that I had been going to give it to him.

But I was deceived: they took me and my wife to the detention centre. Then we were both arrested under article 222, part 1 (Illegal Possession of Weapons) and taken to Detention Centre 2. After that, employees of the Federal Security Service (FSS) came to see me several times, and I told them about my trip to Volgograd with Umar, and told the truth: that we went to scare them, that we disabled the bomb near the Police Academy, and that we were surprised ourselves when it exploded. They said that it self-detonated. After that, the investigator Khovanskii and his boss, Ragalsky, came from Volgograd. I gave them a testimony, and they said that in 3 days time I would be taken to Volgograd for investigation actions.

Then, in the Detention Facility 2, I learned that I had actually had accomplices:

Harun Maziyev, whom I had seen once in my life. We met outside the mosque and talked for 5 minutes. I never saw him or talked to again, and when I heard his voice in the police van, I was shocked. He said that they had come to him on the night of 7th to 8th of May, called him out of his house, and planted a Kalashnikov assault rifle magazine on him with 24 cartridges;

Alexei Antonov (in Islam - Ali), the cousin of Umar;

Ruslan Vladimirovich Belkin-Yablukov (in Islam - Abu Bakr), whom I knew slightly: we sometimes talked about religion, saw each other at the mosque and the Halal café, and a couple of times just by chance near his home and on the street;

and Shamil Bagandov, whom I do not know and have never seen.

Grenades were also planted on Ali and Abu Bakr, while Shamil was taken because of Ali's testimony. When we were walking in the yard, Ali himself — who was in a nearby yard — told me that he was told in the committee that "if you don't say what we need you to say against Abu Bakr and Shamil, we'll do everything possible to get you life imprisonment. Don't you know they are terrorists? You choose: either write what we tell you to write, or get life imprisonment." Ali was frightened, and wrote what they dictated. That's how the Investigative Committee of Astrakhan works, clearly fabricating cases.

Now I'll go back a bit. The day before the trip to Volgograd for  investigative actions, I was taken in the evening to the Investigation Committee, to Safarov's office, and I had a conversation with him. The guards and the lawyer from the party of investigation, Makhov, were in the hallway. Safarov began: "You know, Musa, your poor wife is overwhelmed, intimidated. I feel so sorry for her. All women prisoners consider her a terrorist, they want to abuse her. The management is restraining them for now, but imagine what might happen to her: they'll abuse her, she won't be able to get over it, and she'll hang herself.” He gave me to understand that they could do whatever they wanted with her, and added: "Umar left a wife and son. Can you imagine, she'll be caught with a grenade because she wanted to blow up the Committee in retaliation for her husband, and will be sent to prison. And where will the son end up? In an orphanage, where everyone will say that his father and mother are terrorists and make fun of him." I knew they were capable of such baseness for their own benefit, and calmly said to him, "What are you suggesting?" He answered, "You know, Musa, our leadership is unhappy that you did not gave us a confession about Volgograd. The Volgograd leaders got awards in Moscow, but our leadership got nothing. They need to distinguish themselves, too. Our leadership is offering you a deal. You write a confession that you and Umar tried to blow up something on May 9, but that we detained you on time. You'll be a witness in this case. Umar can't be harmed by anything now. We, in turn, will release your wife in a week, maximum. We'll leave Umar's wife alone. We'll take on the Volgograd case, to join. It's fight between regions.” He smiled. I said to him, "Artur, you know very well that my wife had no idea what I was doing. We lived together for little more than a month. I brought the weapon, the "Saiga", and the grenade home a couple of days before the arrest, she had no idea that there was a gun in the house. You planted the Kalash cartridge on me, there are cameras in the “Lenta” supermarket and I'm more than confident that the video shows you slipping it onto me. And the fingerprints on it aren't mine, but the fingerprints of those who gave it to me." He replied, "We can do what we want with your wife, no one will ask any questions. The video at "Lenta" was accidentally erased, and there will be no prints on the cartridge — you understand yourself, the expertise is ours... so I'll give you five minutes to think." I had to agree.

I began to think and to choose a target, while he went to a nearby office — as I later learned, to the investigator Duynaliev. When he came back, he said, "The night club "Dair” is such a filthy den, I'd blow it up myself." Then he added, "Musa, something about “Lenta”. We need to link your arrest and the video on your laptop where you talk about “Lenta”, and say that bombing convoys is supposedly allowed.” And he added, "Musa, you'll be a witness in the "Dair" case." After that we wrote everything down, he called the guards and a lawyer, and I signed all the papers. But he deceived me. My wife remained in Detention Facility 2 for about six weeks because of my weapons, and spent 5 months under house arrest. She still doesn't know if the case is closed or not, and her personal items have not been returned to her. And they hung article 205, section 2 of 30 (Attempted Terrorism Attack) on me.

When I saw Safarov after this, I told him that I do not intend to remain silent. He laughed and said, "Musa, who's going to listen to you, who's going to believe you? We've given you such great publicity. You're a terrorist, almost second after Doku Umarov. All the Russian people hate you — after all, you're blowing up Russians." I said, "And what if they found out about this in Moscow?" He said, "What? Moscow knows what's going on. It's advantageous for them if you go to prison for terrorist attacks, they will report that we are fighting against terror here. So shut up, if you do not want to spend your life in prison."

That is the truth. Yes, Umar and I carried out several armed robberies, during which however no one was beaten or touched. Yes, we went to Volgograd and laid two bombs, but we turned one off and did not want any victims. We were neither terrorists nor murderers, we did not adhere to radical Islam. We were ordinary Muslims. And now what? The investigators say, "Do you want to register your marriage to your wife? Do you want to enter into a pre-trial agreement? Then give the testimony that we tell you to give, against Belkin-Yablukov and Bagandov." That is, slander them like Ali did. But I cannot slander them, because I had no business with them. I submit various applications to the investigator, and he smiles and puts them aside.

I am more than confident that our trial will also be fabricated, as it is for the three who are now there — Badrudinov, Kafarov and Abdushev, accused of assaulting and murdering police officers. They are not even being given an opportunity to defend themselves, all questions are rejected, as are all petitions. Why don't they just shoot them immediately without a trial, what's the point of this farce?! I don't know whether you will be allowed to publish my declaration, or if you can help. I only want one thing - to let people know what really happens in the Investigation Committee...

Badrudinov and I are in the same cell, and he has also told me many things — how they were tortured, and much more. If something suddenly happens to me, if I have a heart attack, for example, or if I hang myself in my cell, you should know that it was the Investigative Committee that did it, that they have simply murdered me. They could also do something to my wife, to get me to shut up. They could plant anything on her. Please, help me in this case. Help me find and obtain the truth."

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