Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Airport Bombing Rocks Russia

By now you have probably heard about the suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport that has killed at least 35 and wounded 180 others, many of them seriously. The attack was the worst act of terror in Russia since a suicide bombing in the Moscow Metro killed 40 last March. While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, it's probably not a stretch to assume that terrorists from Russia's restive North Caucasus region are responsible.

I think that the attacks are especially interesting in the light of a news report circulating in the Russian media last week that militant Chechen leader Doku Umarov had been killed in an operation by Russian special forces soldiers. Officially, the Russian government isn't offering any proof of Umarov's death and have been somewhat downplaying the reports, noting that Umarov's demise has been falsely reported before. But at the same time, they are saying that, for all they know, Umarov could be dead. The timing of the Domodedovo bombing then becomes very interesting, could it be a statement by the terrorists that they are still a lethal force, despite the loss of their most public leader?

It will also be interesting to see what the political fallout from the attack will be for Russia's ruling tandem of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. Medvedev has already made the usual statements leaders make at times like this about bringing perpetrators to justice, etc., though for nearly a decade now Russia has failed to find a solution to their North Caucasus problem. Even the subcontracting of the security situation to Chechnya's President/Warlord Ramzan Kadyrov seems now to have been a failure since the problem of Chechen terror has simply migrated to neighboring republics like Ingushetia and Dagestan, which see terror attacks (albeit smaller-scale ones than Domodedovo) on a near-daily basis. Last year Medvedev correctly noted that a big factor behind the growth of militancy in the North Caucasus was the grinding poverty and lack of development in the region, but the Domodedovo attack coming on the heels of last month's murder of Russian soccer fan Yegor Sviridov by a group of men from the North Caucasus – an act which sparked several riots in Moscow – isn't likely to leave many Russian wanting to offer aid and support to their North Caucasus countrymen. What could further hurt Medvedev/Putin are reports that Russia's state security force, the FSB, were tracking what we'd call in the United States several “persons of interest” in the days before the attack, yet security levels at the airport were not raised. Among the comments posted online that I read yesterday was one from a Moscow resident saying that the FSB was more concerned about breaking up political opposition rallies than they were about actually protecting the citizens of Russia.

One final note – kudos to the BBC for their coverage of the airport attack yesterday, which included a constantly-updated ticker of breaking news.

Update - The Guardian newspaper is now reporting that a Chechen "Black Widow" female suicide bomber is suspected to have carried out the Domodedovo attack. Dmitry Medvedev also slammed officals for the lax state of security at the airport.
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