“Many knew them. They are not those for whom they were exposed. They were not any terrorists, much less created bombs. ”
This is one of the comments under numerous reports of another “successful” anti-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus. On the night of May 3–4, in the Stavropol Territory, the 31-year-old Sultan Hitsunov and the 28-year-old Mehti Imammov, whom the regional FSB called the leaders of the “religious extremist cell” that planned the attacks in Russia, were “liquidated”. The wife of Sultan Hitsunov, like many residents of Nevinnomyssk, is convinced that her husband, a well-known entrepreneur in the North Caucasus, was not related to extremists and was killed by security forces to create the appearance of the fight against terrorism. Human rights activist Ruslan Kambiev, personally acquainted with Khitsunov, is also convinced that Sultan could not be connected with terrorists. Alena Hitsunova told us about who could benefit from the murder of her husband and how Muslims are persecuted in the Stavropol Territory.
“Sultan and I are both Russians and both converted to Islam”
– Tell us about your family. How did you meet the Sultan? How did you live?
– It all started in 2011 – I then lived in Samara, studied in the third year at Samara University of Economics. The sultan then lived in Nevinnomyssk. We met corny – through the Internet. Somehow, communication began gradually, at first they talked on the phone, then he began to come to me, then to my parents – specifically with intentions to get married. We got married only two years later – in January 2014. We moved to Nevinnomyssk, this is his hometown. In the same year, in December, we had a son – now he is almost 3.5 years old.
– What did the Sultan do in recent years? How was his business going?
– From the age of 17, the Sultan worked full time, worked hard on a par with adults. Immediately after graduating from school, he left with his father to the north, where they worked in the company – either in wood or in metal. In parallel, he entered the university in Surgut in the correspondence department. When he and his father decided to return to Nevinnomyssk, Sultan planned to transfer to a local university, but it did not work out. There was a choice – either work or study. He decided to work, he always liked it, he is, so to say, a pathological workaholic. After returning, they began to develop a sausage business. The capital that they earned in the north, invested in business – there literally 400 thousand for two they had. At first it didn’t work out, at some point they burnt out. The Sultan ended up with 11 thousand with copecks – again, I had to start all over again. The Sultan has been developing this business for 11 years, he really loved his job. His life consisted of three things – family, work, sport. From childhood he was engaged in swimming, boxing, football. If he was not at home, he was either at work or in training.
Sultan Hitsunov. Photo: @khitsunova_alena / instagram
– What did you do?
– I am a housewife, but at the same time I was studying something all the time, I took some courses. I’m a marketing specialist by education, but I don’t work by profession. Although I told my husband some things in business – based on my knowledge. I was fond of psychology, alternative medicine. Recently I started to develop my Instagram page. My husband was my inspiration – he supported all my endless ideas and desires. This year I was going to enter the faculty of distance education in St. Petersburg as a psychologist. The husband said: “If it benefits you, our family and society – of course, go study.” But before I could do it.
– Judging by your profile on Instagram, you have a very religious family.
– Yes, we are observant Muslims. We observe the fivefold prayer, I wear a scarf. At the same time, both Sultan and I were both Russians and both converted to Islam: he was back in the early 2000s, I was in May 2009, before I met him. A personal spiritual search led me to this. And the Sultan – after his father, one might say, followed his example.
– In Nevinnomyssk there are many such families?
– Very few. Nevinnomyssk is a small city, the population is only 140 thousand, and there are not many Muslims in percentage terms. We wanted to move to the neighboring republic, to Karachay-Cherkessia. I never liked Nevinnomyssk – the city is dirty, the environment is bad. Well, here we were a little out of place. At the same time, there were very good relations with the locals, there have never been conflicts. My husband is a very sociable person; almost everyone knew him in Nevinnomyssk – if not personally, then at least in absentia. There were never enemies, no one in the city could say that the Sultan once rude someone or did not let his grandmother at the traffic lights. He was engaged in charity work, arranged a sports ground in the park, set ballot boxes at his own expense, organized community work days, and collected garbage in the park with his own hands. On Fridays, he organized an action in the city: in the shops where our sausage was sold, he offered to hang an ad – every Friday, veterans, pensioners and poor sausages were free. Every week, he allocated 30-40 kilograms of sausage to distribute. Now strangers from Nevinnomyssk write to me that they knew my husband. And the overwhelming majority does not believe in everything they write, and says one thing: what the FSB arranged is a circus.
“And they are sharing with you, why, in their opinion, could this happen with the Sultan?”
– Different people express different versions. Someone believes that he created a very high competition. It’s hard for me to assume, but such a version is also present – I fully admit that someone had commercial interests to remove it. In the Caucasus, a lot of Muslims said that the Hitsunov sausage is the only sausage that is not in doubt, both in terms of halality, and in terms of cleanliness, and, of course, quality. In the last year, the Sultan’s business went into its own workshop, and before that we rented part of the workshop in Stavropol. Naturally, after this the momentum began to grow. He hired designers to develop a competitive shell design, was going to enter the Moscow market, to St. Petersburg. Our sausage is in the Crimea, in the Far North, our sausage was ordered abroad. People appreciated, respected and loved our products,
“You talk a lot – there will be problems”
– What happened to the Sultan, could you somehow predict? Were there any threats before him, warnings? Perhaps contacts with special services?
– have been. In the fall of 2011, literally shortly before our acquaintance with the Sultan, a search was carried out at his home. He told me about this later. Here’s the thing: in Nevinnomyssk there are no mosques, no prayer rooms, Muslims went to the mosque for Friday prayers 50 kilometers from the city. At some point, they decided to gather at the Sultan’s house on the condition that within 20 people. It was all open: the Sultan notified the local law enforcement officers, warned that they would gather: “We are quiet, calm, we will not disturb anyone, there will be no azan on the street. Quietly gathered, prayed, fled – that’s all. If you want – come, check us. ” However, police officers themselves, who profess Islam, often came to him to pray. The neighbors were never against: on one side of the house we have neighbors only through two sections, and on the other, a wonderful elderly couple, we have always been in very good relations with them, there have never been any complaints against us. Now they, by the way, are watching over our house, which was left unattended, I gave my cat to them.
And once, during a prayer, FSB officers surrounded the house, riot police arrived, mask shows began – everything was as it should be. They started the search, then they all took him to the department. The reason was allegedly that someone complained about the Sultan from the neighbors. But this could not be at all. After this search, her husband started having problems at work. Pressure was exerted on the leadership of the poultry farm, where the husband worked as the head of the halal workshop – the husband had to resign from there. At the enterprises where the Sultan worked, searches were also conducted. There was pressure in the sausage shop too. In a word, everyone was told: “We are not working with Khitsunov, otherwise there will be problems.” Then firemen, a water utility, a hydroelectric network, and a gas supply company came to the Sultan to check home, although gas was not even carried out on our street. As a result, they wrote out a bunch of fines, one was even written for the extension cord to which the laptop was connected.
– Perhaps, among the acquaintances of the Sultan there were people whom they considered suspicious?
– There was a story in our city – one family went to live in Turkey. As I understood it, it later turned out that the head of the family allegedly relates to some banned Islamic organization in Syria. Since the city is small, everyone knows each other, when it became known about it, in general all Muslims were called. I knew this man’s wife, although we were never friends. I remember leaving, they began to sell all their apartments – they had three of them. I thought then: “Why are they doing this? Would you leave something, suddenly want to return? ” We then thought that they just wanted to move to an Islamic country – nothing special. When everything became clear, the husband immediately ordered them to be blocked everywhere, to delete numbers, not to communicate with them. We didn’t hide anything at all: we told all the information that we had. We had nothing to hide.
– And how did the Sultan communicate with law enforcement agencies?
– My husband is actually without complexes at all. I remembered there was one case – for a long time according to the documents he was framed as a deputy imam of the city. He was often called to city meetings on issues of interethnic and interreligious relations, on the improvement of the city, and youth development. They called even after dismissal from this post. He was told: “You are an active young man, entrepreneur, philanthropist, we would like to see you at our meetings.” And he continued to walk, and never kept silent there, always actively spoke out.
Once, a representative of some youth movement spoke to me, he said that they had set up a tree of love in the city with charity money. The Sultan could not stand it, he asked for a word and said: “What tree of love? What are you speaking about? What is the use of this? In our city there are no ballot boxes, but every hundred meters there are beer houses. There are no shops in our park! What tree of love are you talking about? ”And one day we passed a police station, and the Sultan made a remark to two policemen – who threw bull-calves into the lawn. The sultan came up and said with a smile: “Dear, how are you not ashamed? You are the defenders of the rule of law, you must be an example. ”
He was not shy, approached, spoke, made comments, but at the same time he was never aggressive, he never entered into conflicts. Knowing our people and their mentality, one would think that people reacted aggressively to it, but no. I never heard that someone was rude to him in return – he gave himself so that people could not answer him rudely. Because he smiled, said politely “Be nice,” “Be kind.” Almost literary language. The FSB officers themselves said to him: “Why are you making comments to people? Why do you say “do not smoke, do not drink”? Let them smoke and drink, do you care? ” And the Sultan said: “I love my people, I want our youth to be healthy.” “You talk too much. You will talk a lot – there will be problems, ”- this is what he was constantly told.
“Intelligence agencies do not even bother with the normal scenario”
“On the eve of the murder, did the Sultan have contacts with security agencies?”
– Well, the last search we had was in February. In our city, a criminal case was opened against a person who helped make citizenship from Central Asia. This man has no connection with my husband, except for one moment – about 10 years ago, at the request of a friend, the Sultan temporarily prescribed him and several other men at home. This was done before any amendments to the registration law. As soon as the law was passed, the Sultan quickly wrote out everyone as it should. This case was allegedly the reason for our search. They also came with a search to one of our friends – they didn’t show any papers there at all: they simply burst in, pressed everyone to the wall — mother, grandmother, grandfather, wife, all with raised hands. They just burst in and start to grumble. Now, in general, in Nevinnomyssk, hard sweeps have begun – probably, this is activation before the World Cup. During the search, nothing was found. Then the Sultan was called twice to the prosecutor’s office of the Kochubeyevsky district – a request was filed to institute criminal proceedings against him, but the prosecutor’s office refused: firstly, amendments to the law had not yet been adopted, and secondly, the statute of limitations had expired.
– What was the third of May? How did you spend your evening?
– On the eve of that night, on the third of May in the evening, my husband arrived home with one of his employees. He said that they would go to the night shift and knead the sausage so that it could be released the next day. This is normal practice – the workshop often worked at night, shipping, loading – all this often happened at night. He was going to stay there for the night, but I reminded him that I had to go to the hairdresser at 7 in the morning, and my son should be taken to the kindergarten by 9 in the morning. He promised to return home as soon as he was released, and left.
At 6 in the morning I woke up – my husband was not at home. I began to call him – the beeps are coming, but no one picks up the phone. Watching WhatsApp – was online at 2:01. I thought, okay, I probably fell asleep in the workshop – that was the only reason he could let me down. I canceled the entry to the hairdresser, decided that day to stay with my son at home, went to bed further. At half past eight in the morning, the Sultan is still gone. I called – the beeps are coming, but there is no answer. Of course, I began to worry, but did not expect anything like that. The Sultan was always in touch – they could call him from work at two in the morning, and he always answered at any time of the day or night.
At half past nine in the morning, Angela Nurieva, the wife of Mehti Imammov, called me and wanted to know if her husband had stopped by one of our employees for sausage early in the morning. I immediately had a bad feeling about me, I began to ask her what was the matter. She told me that at 6:10 in the morning her husband went to take his mother to work, and after that did not return. Literally, the wife of one of our employees called me and asked: “Where is the Sultan? Nobody can find him at work, but he is urgently needed here. ” I say: “He went to the workshop in the evening, call there, maybe he sleeps there.” They called the workshop – they say that the Sultan left home at half past one in the night.
– What did you do next? Have you tried to look for it yourself?
– I called the father of the Sultan, he immediately went to all instances – to the cops, the local FSB – no one knows anything, no one knows. Later we saw a summary on the Internet: “An anti-terrorist operation was carried out in the village of Rabochiy in the Kochubeyevsky District, during which Hitsunov Sultan and Imammov Mehti were liquidated.”
We immediately went to this village of Rabochiy. Three hundred meters from the road there is an abandoned building with no windows and no doors – a laboratory, as the FSB experts called it. The building is completely not visible from the road. Around everything is cordoned off, we are not allowed inside. The police said: “Go from here, nobody will tell you anything.” We stood, waited, then we were not even shown his body. The only thing I saw was the car of the Sultan, it was absolutely whole, with no signs of shooting or chasing. The only thing that I noticed was that the left wheel was broken, and the front-wheel drive car — on one wheel, he certainly could not have come there. Either the wheel was shot down, or it exploded at the right time.
The father-in-law went to the Stavropol FSB. The boss came out, said that the operation had been carried out, there were documents in the car for Hitsunov Sultan Daudovich, there were no living persons: “You will be called for identification, called for interrogation, goodbye.” Everything. No more information was given to us. They called for identification on May 8 – they showed only their faces, they strictly forbidden to touch their bodies. I think they scoffed at him, so they hide the traces. On the same day, flew to Kazakhstan – my family lives here. I flew away for security reasons, and because, in principle, it was simply very difficult for me to be there alone.
– The FSB published a video from an abandoned building in the village of Rabochiy. Did you see him? What do you think about this?
– In this video, pay attention, there are such ridiculous things. For example, a brand new shiny pan. No matter how good a hostess I may be, I don’t have such pots. Plus, under the pan is an electric stove. This is in an abandoned building, where there are no wires at all, where there is no electricity. Interesting, huh? Our special services do not even bother with the normal scenario. Who are these videos for? Do they really think that this can be believed? It would be logical to think that if they really cooked something there, it would be easier to put a gas burner than to carry some kind of generator with them.
“Have you been called for interrogation?”
– After two weeks of silence from the investigator, the father-in-law called himself and asked for an interrogation. He arrived, but they didn’t really ask him anything about the case – they just found out the husband’s biography, which they already know by heart — how many times these files were compiled, and for all Muslims in the city. At the end, the investigator asked the question: “Did you know that your son was preparing the attack?” Then his father ceased to restrain himself and broke through: “This could not be! I knew my son, I knew his every smile. I knew everything he did. He didn’t offend insects, but you want to say that he wanted to kill people? ” The investigator said: “Well, they found a weapon, he had gun grease on his hands.” Father explained that throwing weapons, putting fingerprints, smearing hands – this is not a problem for special services. He also asked why the investigators didn’t take the billing for two weeks – then you could see where Sultan was all night, who was with him, who he allegedly was cooking bombs with: “Look, maybe he and your employees were cooking the bomb? “. What can I talk about here if they didn’t even inspect the car in two weeks – the investigator told his father-in-law that he saw her only in photographs. And if there are traces of blood inside, maybe the Sultan was killed right there? In short, they did absolutely nothing to investigate. Was the Sultan killed there? In short, they did absolutely nothing to investigate. Was the Sultan killed there? In short, they did absolutely nothing to investigate.
As a result, they listened to the father of the Sultan and asked him to sign an agreement on not initiating a criminal case on my husband’s involvement in terrorist activities. That is, they quietly killed him at night and at 7 in the morning named him a terrorist, the leader of some radical extremist cell. Is it possible by law in this country to call someone guilty without trial? But he was already called a terrorist, and now they want us to sign an agreement not to initiate proceedings. They say: “But why excite, if he is already gone? Against whom is a criminal case instituted? ” Lawyers tell us that if we sign this, the FSB has the right to recognize him as a terrorist without trial, and has the right not to extradite his body and bury him in an unknown grave without even telling us where she is. I’m sure that they want this, they don’t want us to see the body, because most likely, there we will see traces of their atrocities. It is not beneficial for them to investigate this matter – they killed a man and that’s all. The father-in-law said that we will not sign anything, we have filed a motion to initiate proceedings, but there has been no answer for almost two weeks now. And in the end, the investigator warned him: “Hire a lawyer, but do not rely on anything. You won’t succeed – 95%, that we won’t give the body to you. ”
“I just want my husband to have a grave”
“Why do you think they killed your husband?”
“I see this as an act of intimidation.” My husband was a well-known entrepreneur in almost all of Russia. A strong personality, Muslim, leader, many loved him, respected, listened to him. I can say that even the Facebook people themselves treated him in a special way. Because the Sultan never sagged before them. And they love when they were shaking in front of them – as if to put it more culturally … The Sultan always communicated with them on equal terms.
Now in Nevinomyssk there are just some terrible sweeps going on. Half of the Muslims were killed and transplanted. Someone escaped from the city. They say: “Why wait? When will they come for us? We also have children, wives. ” In general, they ran away to where. Everyone is afraid, shaking, afraid to go outside. In the near future I will need to go back, because we don’t even have a death certificate, they don’t give it to us. I hired a lawyer to accompany me everywhere. I don’t know what awaits me there, but, as practice shows, neither women nor children stop them.
Now in Nevinnomyssk there are almost no Muslims left. Four or five are now in prison. One was put in a pre-trial detention center in that case with illegal registration, the other was thrown up by drugs. In Stavropol itself, terrible lawlessness is also happening now: guys are being imprisoned, they are being bullied. What they want from them is not clear.
– We often see in the news information on the prevention of terrorist attacks, on the elimination of terrorists. Do you think there are many stories among them that are similar to what happened to your husband?
– I think that basically all this is fiction. Yes, of course, there are guys who may pose some kind of threat, but it is much easier to deal with this at the level of prevention than to then catch and eliminate someone. I, as a Muslim, will be even glad if it is the most Facebook people who will carry out preventive work. Of course, there are currents, there are sects. But the very same FSB officers are sometimes even better than Muslims themselves to understand all these Islamic ideologies, they have specialists, they have consultants – it would be nice if they worked with those with whom you need to work. And do not eliminate random Muslims by killing. What I can say about my husband: he never hid from law enforcement. The FSB called him from Division 6 and invited him to a conversation. He either came that day or the next day, talked with them, gave answers to any of their questions. And in principle, if we imagine that we are in some kind of parallel universe and that my husband could really be involved in something, they could always call him, invite him to the department and arrest him there. They didn’t even need to come to our home with a special operation — he would have come to them. They could have detained him there, put him on the detector, unravel some chains – it would have been much more beneficial for security, this would have helped prevent some additional problems. But they don’t need it when you can just kill a person and that’s it. They didn’t even need to come to our home with a special operation — he would have come to them. They could have detained him there, put him on the detector, unravel some chains – it would have been much more beneficial for security, this would have helped prevent some additional problems. But they don’t need it when you can just kill a person and that’s it. They didn’t even need to come to our home with a special operation — he would have come to them. They could have detained him there, put him on the detector, unravel some chains – it would have been much more beneficial for security, this would have helped prevent some additional problems. But they don’t need it when you can just kill a person and that’s it.
– In the future, do you plan to stay in Kazakhstan? Or go to another country?
– I had an idea to go to another country and stay to live there. There is such an opportunity, but I do not want to run. Here I have a family, a mother-in-law, for whom I feel responsible, because he has nobody left except us. There remained a business in which my husband put his soul in, which I also can’t leave – not because I need finances, but because this is a business in which my husband put his soul into. He was blown away by what cool products he makes, from the fact that this business gave him the opportunity to help people, give jobs, and pay good salaries. I feel responsible even for the people who work for us. Therefore, I do not want to run. Of course, I will not stay in Nevinnomyssk. I will move to Karachay-Cherkessia, where our workshop is located. There, of course, there is also lawlessness, but maybe
– What do you want to achieve, in addition to publicity?
– First of all, I want to get the husband’s body. This is the main and main goal – so that my husband has a grave. As for the rest – I do not count on justice. I just don’t believe in her anymore. I adequately perceive everything that is happening now in the city. I understand that if I go on the rampage now, if I actively fight, they will also fight with me. Only they will do this with not entirely good methods. I don’t know how exactly this will all end for me. But now my goal is to take the body. I understand that the publicity that I want can also hurt. But what are my options? Just shut your mouth and sit silently? Accept everything as it is and forget about her husband? I can’t do that. I hope that if there is some publicity, some kind of resonance in the press, maybe they really will slow down to some extent. If they at least give us the body, we will stop, we will not continue to act. I do not expect more, I know very well that there are a lot of such cases in Russia now. In Dagestan, every day they kill boys and don’t give out bodies. And how many boys are generally missing, it is not known where they are, whether they are alive. Mothers go on a hunger strike, sit in front of the administration for days and nights. I just want him to have a grave. He deserved it. And for the rest I don’t care, I don’t care what they say about him – whether he is a terrorist or not. I know my husband, I am proud that I am his wife. it is not known where they are, whether they are alive. Mothers go on a hunger strike, sit in front of the administration for days and nights. I just want him to have a grave. He deserved it. And for the rest I don’t care, I don’t care what they say about him – whether he is a terrorist or not. I know my husband, I am proud that I am his wife. it is not known where they are, whether they are alive. Mothers go on a hunger strike, sit in front of the administration for days and nights. I just want him to have a grave. He deserved it. And for the rest I don’t care, I don’t care what they say about him – whether he is a terrorist or not. I know my husband, I am proud that I am his wife.