On September 4, 1999 an explosion set off by a group of terrorists destroyed a five-story apartment building in the city of Buynaksk, a military settlement in the Republic of Dagestan. The blast killed 64, and left more then 100 seriously injured, 21 of them children.
This tragedy was the first in a series of terrorist attacks which swept across Russia in September 1999 in response to successful operations undertaken by the Russian troops in Chechnya. On September 8, a blast with an impact of about 220lb of cyclonite tore down two sections of a 9-story apartment building in southeast Moscow, killing 106 and leaving 264 injured. The next explosion, on September 13, reduced to rubble a 6-story apartment building; 124 residents were killed and 9 injured. A terrorist attack in the southern city of Volgodonsk took place on September 16, blowing up the façade of the apartment building. This tragedy took the lives of 17 people and injured 63. All of the explosions were scheduled either for the night or early morning, when all residents were presumed to be at home or asleep.
The explosives for the Buynaksk blast were stored in a truck which had arrived in the backyard of the destroyed house without anyone taking notice. Detonated at 9:45 pm, the bomb wiped out sections of the five-story apartment building, causing partial damage to two other buildings in the vicinity of the blast. The explosion left 64 people dead, including 23 children, and 146 people injured.
An investigation suggested that the choice of the apartment building was not random – the terrorists deliberately picked a house occupied by military families. The blast equaled approximately 660lb of TNT, leaving a 6-feet-deep and 40-feet-wide gap at the explosion site. Witnesses claimed that moments before the explosion they saw two signaling rockets shooting up in the air, which reportedly was the sign to go ahead with the attack.
The scale of the tragedy could have been significantly larger, had it not been for the professionalism of the bomb technicians who managed to discover and disarm another bomb. It was hidden in a truck, stashed near the town’s hospital, and was meant to go off several hours after the first one.
The investigation revealed that the mastermind of the terrorist attacks was Habib Abdul Rahman Khattab, a Muslim terrorist, who had provided financial aid for the Chechen militants. One of Khattab’s associates, Isa Zaynutdinov, was responsible for the explosions, while the entire group had completed subversion training courses. The terrorist attack was planned entirely by Khattab himself and the estimated compensation he was offered for the attack was $700,000.
In March 2001, the Supreme Court of the Dagestan Republic sentenced Isa Zaynutdinov and his accomplice Alisultan Slikhov to life in prison, while other members of the group were given from 3 to 9 years.
In 2002, terrorist leader Khattab was killed in an operation conducted by the secret services in Chechnya.
On January 24, 2006, the jury exonerated the last suspect in the Buynaksk tragedy, Magomed Salikhov, the elder brother of the convicted Alisultan Salikhov. Getting away with just a forgery charge and four years of penitentiary, he was fully exonerated after the revised hearing of his case in November 2006 due to insufficient evidence -- a decision regarded by many as outrageous and unfair.