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By Lucy Ash BBC News, Makhachkala
Two armed men in camouflage holding Kalashnikov rifles enter the shop and tell the customers to leave. The terrified cashier stumbles past as one of the men puts a bomb on the counter and sets the timer.
He does not bother emptying the till, he just walks out of the door.
Seconds later, the shop is filled with smoke.
Attacks like this one caught on supermarket security cameras – in which Islamic fighters punish shops that sell alcohol – have become routine events in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala.
The owners typically get a warning first, often delivered by text message, or on a USB memory stick thrown through car windows, or into a letterbox.
- Islamic militants are fighting for independence from Moscow and to establish an Islamic Caliphate across the North Caucasus
- Last year, 378 insurgency-related deaths were recorded in Dagestan, compared with 134 in Ingushetia and 127 in Chechnya
- Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has blamed the insurgency on “monstrous” corruption and called it “the country’s main security threat”
If they ignore it, there may be a bomb or a shootout or the owners may agree to pay protection money.
“The fighters like to portray themselves as so devout,” says a lieutenant colonel in the anti-terrorism police, who I will call Bashir.
“But many are just cynical criminals running protection rackets.”
I met Bashir at a football match, watching the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o – reportedly the world’s best-paid footballer – play for Anzhi Makhachkala.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was relaxed, even joyful, with old men munching sunflower seeds and children waving flags, despite the heavy security outside.
After the game, a smiling Eto’o told me he was proud to play in Dagestan – but he does not spend much time here, heading straight back to the safety of Moscow after every match.
In the centre of Makhachkala, there are armed police on almost every corner.
Bashir drives me past a place where two car bombs recently killed a policeman and a young girl and wounded 60 police and passers-by.
“When our guys rushed to the scene of the first explosion, a blast about 12 times more powerful went off,” he adds.
Find out more
- You can listen to Lucy Ash’s Crossing Continents on Dagestan on BBC Radio 4 on 24 November at 11:00 GMT and on Monday 28 November at 20:30 GMT
- You can watch her film on Dagestan on Newsnight on BBC2 on Thursday 24 November at 22:30
“It was a trap. They wanted to get as many of us as possible.”
He asks me not to use his real name, or to photograph his face. Government officials and policemen are the main targets of the increasingly ruthless Islamic insurgents.