Somehow Ingusetia's president survived this bomb attack on his car
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Nazran
Who has ever heard of Ingushetia?
Not many people outside Russia. And why should they? It's tiny.
In this vast country of 11 time zones, Ingushetia is a speck on the map.
In the "about the size of" stakes, it ranks with the English county of Hampshire. Its population is less than half a million.
Ingushetia has always been overshadowed by its larger and more violent neighbour, Chechnya.
But that suddenly changed in August when Ingushetia hit the headlines for all the worst reasons.
A suicide bomber smashed a lorry into the police headquarters in the republic's capital Nazran. Twenty policemen were incinerated. Another 160 were badly injured.
The bombers were Islamist radicals. In a chilling video posted on the internet, a Russian-born Muslim convert called Said Buryatsky makes it clear the bomb was intended to kill as many people as possible.
He shows how they packed chopped-up pieces of metal bar around the bomb to act as shrapnel, to shred the bodies of the policemen and anyone else standing nearby.
And he promises that there will be more attacks on those "who deny the book of Allah".
In fact this attack was only the largest, not the first. The violence in Ingushetia has been growing for two years.
On my first day in Nazran I'm taken to a police compound on the edge of town (it's hardly large enough to be called a city).
This shot-up rebels' car was one of many wrecks in the chilling scrapyard
Behind the high walls sit piles and piles of smashed-up cars.
It looks like a junkyard.
But closer inspection reveals a different story.
Every one of the vehicles has been destroyed in some violent confrontation.
My guide is a jolly, corpulent policeman who clearly doesn't get many foreign guests.
"Three militants were killed in that one," he says, pointing to a bullet-riddled Lada.
"You can still see the blood on the seats," he adds with enthusiasm.
"And that one was a suicide bomber." He points to another Lada with its roof opened like a tin can.
The dozens of cars piled up have all arrived within the last few months.
I have come to see one very specific piece of wreckage. It's sitting in a corner by itself.
"Ah yes," says my guide. "This was the president's car."
Bizarre conspiracy theory
All that is left is a burned-out heap of twisted steel.
Ingushetia's leader blames unnamed foreign countries' security services
It was blown up by a huge car bomb in June as Ingushetia's president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, was on his way to work.
The thought that anyone could have got out of the mangled wreckage alive seems impossible. But somehow he did.
When I'm shown in to his office the Ingush president looks remarkably well for a man who was reported to be on the verge of death just four months ago.
But his explanation for what is going on in his tiny republic smacks of Moscow-scripted propaganda.
"The security services of several foreign countries, working together with the illegal terrorist groups, are seeking to destabilise this part of southern Russia," he says.
When pushed he refuses to name the foreign countries, but hints strongly that Georgia is one of them, and by implication Georgia's best friend, America.
This seems a bizarre conspiracy theory.
But it's a fairly standard Russian line.
Blown up three times
It traces its origins back to 1980s Afghanistan, when the CIA really did pay radical Islamist groups to fight against Moscow.
But it is of little help in explaining what's going on here today.
At the burned-out shell of the police headquarters, they're still clearing away the debris from the August suicide bombing.
Standing on the spot where he very nearly died, Lt Vasanbek Porogov tells me a different story of Ingushetia. It's the third time he's been blown up.
So why, I ask him, does he still do this job?
"There are no other jobs here," he says. "If you have a family to raise the security services are the only option."
I ask him why he thinks the violence is growing.
"You need to ask our leaders," he says. "They kill people, they say they're killing fighters, but I don't know.
"They're killing a lot of young people. There are 12 so-called fighters who have been in detention for three years - I guarded them, I talked to them; they didn't seem like fighters to me.
"If they're guilty, they need to be convicted; if not, let go."
Bitterness and fury
It's an odd answer from a man who's nearly been killed by rebels more than once.
But it demonstrates just how convoluted everything is about Ingushetia.
My last stop is a large house on the edge of Nazran.
It belongs to the Aushev clan, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Ingushetia.
Magomed Aushev is a huge man, with a barrel chest, a long white beard and tall woollen hat.
He is the archetypal Ingush patriarch.
He is also filled with bitterness and anger.
Ten days before my visit his son was murdered in his car. He had been a leading opposition politician.
"My son got in the way because he tried to tell the truth," he tells me. "He got in the way of this political game."
Then he launches into a tirade against the security services.
"They have money and the weapons. It's them who do the kidnappings, the killings, the illegal executions. They embezzle half the budget, but nothing is done about them."
I ask him if that's why the young men are turning to violence.
"These generals who come have no regard for the law," he says.
"They kill, they burn, they beat. They have weapons, they have armoured vehicles.
"The young men who stand against them don't have anything. They take a gun and go to the woods.
"They have a [suicide] belt. They're not drug addicts or madmen. No, they're good young men from good families; they take that belt and walk away to death."