- Associated Press - Sunday, March 20, 2011

GROZNY, Russia | The brightly lit avenues, imposing new mosque and glitzy shopping malls in Chechnya’s once bomb-scarred capital mean nothing to Raisa Turluyeva, whose son disappeared after being seized by black-uniformed security forces.

To Ms. Turluyeva, 40, the rule of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is even more frightening than the past wars between separatist fighters and Russian troops that left Grozny in ruins.

Her eyes well with tears when she recalls how her family’s two houses were burned to the ground after a raid on suspected militants in October 2009 and her son, a 19-year-old university student, was arrested hours later on suspicion of having rebel links.

Her brother-in-law briefly saw him in custody, unable to stand and his face bearing the signs of beatings. There has been no word of him since.

“Not a single woman in Chechnya who has a son can now live without that fear. We are all standing in line waiting for that to happen,” she said. “They talk a lot about the reconstruction of Grozny, but I don’t care. I don’t know how to live without my son.”

Heavily armed officers ride in the 2010 Victory Day Parade, which commemorates the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany, in Grozny. Mr. Kadyrov relies on his feared security forces to stabilize the region after two separatist wars in the past 16 years. (Associated Press)
Heavily armed officers ride in the 2010 Victory Day Parade, which commemorates ... more >

Ms. Turluyeva said her son, who studied at Grozny’s oil industry university, had no rebel connections.

Rights activists say people suspected of having ties to militants are still being abducted by forces loyal to Mr. Kadyrov, who runs the mostly Muslim republic in southern Russia like his personal fiefdom.

Moscow, which is counting on Mr. Kadyrov to quench the Islamic insurgency, has given him free rein.

Mr. Kadyrov, a former rebel who fought federal forces during the first, 1994-96, Chechen war, switched sides when the Russian army rolled back into the region in 1999, joining his father who became the first Moscow-backed leader of Chechnya.

Since succeeding his father, who was killed in a May 2004 bombing of Grozny’s stadium, Mr. Kadyrov has used his personal security force to impose his rule. The unshakable loyalty and brutality of his men have made his word the law of the land.

When Mr. Kadyrov urged Chechen women to wear headscarves in line with Islamic tradition, those who disobeyed faced paintball attacks and harassment by his black-clad squads.

Natalya Estemirova, who headed the Chechen office of internationally respected rights group Memorial and spoke out against the headscarves campaign, was abducted from outside her home in Grozny in July 2009 and found shot to death along a roadside a few hours later.

The head of Memorial blamed the death on Mr. Kadyrov, who responded with a slander suit.

Mr. Kadyrov’s critics have been silenced, with some of his foes gunned down in contract-style killings as far away as Moscow, Vienna and Dubai. Mr. Kadyrov has denied any involvement.

Sulim Yamadayev, a Chechen warlord who competed with Mr. Kadyrov for the Kremlin’s favor, was shot dead in Dubai in March 2009, a few months after his older brother, a member of Russia’s parliament, was gunned down during rush hour in central Moscow.

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