In recent years, a more common tactic has been to try to persuade guerrillas to give themselves up by abducting their family members. In December 2004, pro-Kremlin Chechen militia seized seven relatives of Aslan Maskhadov, then the rebels' leader, and held them for six months. Doku Umarov, the militants' current chief who ordered the Domodedovo airport bombing in Moscow last month, is said to have swerved toward more radical Islam in 2007 after security operatives kidnapped and later reportedly killed his father.
In 2008, Ramzan Kadyrov -- the president of Chechnya whose militia was accused of most such abductions -- went a step further. His men began burning the homes of fighters' families (there were 25 cases in less than a year). "Those families that have relatives in the woods are all collaborators in the crime; they are terrorists, extremists, Wahhabis, and devils," Kadyrov explained in a meeting with his cabinet. Such people should be "cursed and ousted," he said.
There are, of course, better ways to approach the families of young men who have "gone to the forest," as locals euphemistically put it. Dagestan, for example, recently set up a commission for the rehabilitation of fighters that co-opts relatives in negotiating the surrender of boyeviki, who can then expect softened sentences for their crimes.
In Kabardino-Balkaria, Valery Khatazhukov, a well-known human rights advocate, is supporting a group of alleged militants' parents who have asked for a meeting with the republic's Kremlin-appointed president, Arsen Kanokov. "They want to see what they can do to help return their children and ensure they get a fair trial," said Khatazhukov when I met him.
Kanokov has indicated he is ready to meet the group, but it already seems clear he holds little sympathy for hard-pressed relatives. "We need to work with parents and families," he said on Feb. 1. "If they haven't brought up their children right, let them also take responsibility. Someone is running around in the forest, while his relative works in a shop. That can't go on; we will find measures for that."
He added: "Of course, we're not going to burn down houses in the places [fighters] were born, like they do in Chechnya.... But if [parents] have given birth to a monster, then they should answer for it, not the state."
The president's ill-judged comments were compounded when he said the violence in Kabardino-Balkaria has gotten so bad that groups of athletic young men should be armed to create anti-Islamist village militia units. ("Absurd idea," Khatazhukov told me. "It's the security services who should provide us security, not some amateur sportsmen with guns in their hands.")
Now, vigilantes like the previously unheard of Black Hawks appear to be taking this task to hand. In the last few days, a fuzzy video has gone viral here, as young people across the republic pass it between cell phones. Titled "Address from the Black Hawks," it features a man in a black balaclava and a military jacket clutching an automatic weapon and talking to the camera. "You have a 2 million [ruble] price on your heads," says the man, apparently addressing local leaders of the Islamist guerrillas. "We don't need the money; we'll liquidate you for free."
The masked man later mentions Umarov as well as Marina's missing son, Astemir, and Ratmir Shameyev, another young rebel, known for his eye patch.
"Umarov betrayed his people -- he delivers young people to the slaughter and then proclaims them martyrs," he says. "Why is he himself not hurrying to the Gardens of Paradise? You, killers, Mamishev and Shameyev. Your time is running out. We are on your trail and the reprisal will be short."
It is unclear yet how serious the Black Hawks are about their threats and whether they have the wherewithal to carry them out. But the very fact that such a group has announced itself poses the threat of a widening civil conflict, where neighbor attacks neighbor on the base of rumor and fear.
Marina Mamisheva says she is not sure how much more she can take. Since November, police have carried out five searches in her house. In December, Kantemir, a welder, was stopped on his way to work by police who -- he claims -- planted two clips of ammunition in his pockets and then arrested him for carrying them. (A judge found Kantemir not guilty this week.) Now there are the Black Hawks to contend with.
"All the time the pressure on my sons is growing," said Marina. "What do these people want, that two more of my boys go to the forest?"