STEVEN LEE MYERS
Twin terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd within 24 hours injected new urgency Monday into Russias long,ruthless effort to contain a diffuse Islamic insurgency on its southern border,one nominally led by a veteran,battle-scarred Chechen called Russias Osama bin Laden.
The attacks,coming only six weeks before the opening of the Olympics just 400 miles away,sowed widespread fear across the country.
The investigation into the bombings is just getting underway,but the attention of the Russian security services is already focused on the republic of Dagestan,which has become the hub of Muslim separatist violence in recent years,and on connections to the insurgent leader,Doku Umarov. He is a mysterious,almost mythical figure who fought in both Chechnya wars,which began nearly two decades ago and have come to symbolize the radicalization of a movement that began as a struggle for independence.
Umarovs influence had seemed to be waning in recent years,until he surfaced in a video in July,ordering his followers to do whatever was possible to attack Russia as it prepared to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd,Umarovs threats,largely ignored at the time,suddenly seemed ominous,chillingly citing Russias transportation networks as potential targets.
Now,experts say,the question is whether the suicide bombings in Volgograd and one previous attack there are the first volleys in Umarovs promised campaign to disrupt the Olympic Games and discredit the government of President Vladimir V Putin.
The big question is will there be this sort of wave, said Gordon M Hahn,a senior associate with the Centre of Strategic and International Studies. This is already a pretty high level – the fact that they pulled off three suicide bombings in Volgograd in two months. If their idea is to build up a crescendo,they have to take it easy because theyll have to do something really big.
Umarov has previously claimed responsibility for some of the most devastating suicide attacks in recent years,including ones that struck the Moscow subway system in 2010 and the citys Domodedovo Airport in 2011. Neither he nor his organization has claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings.
Umarov was crushed after the second war in Chechnya by Putins defiant refusal to negotiate with fighters he dismissed as terrorists. In response,he repurposed himself as a proponent of global jihad,declaring himself the tactical and inspirational leader of a Caucasus Emirate that few people in the region embrace. Then,in July,he issued his manifesto on the Sochi Games.
Russias Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday denouncing provocative appeals by terrorists like Umarov,while blaming unspecified politicians and others around the world for flirting with them. Umarov and his group have been declared terrorists by the United Nations,and,since 2011,the State Department has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
Police detain dozens after twin bombings
VOLGOGRAD: Police detained dozens of people Tuesday in sweeps through Volgograd after two deadly attacks in less than 24 hours that raised security fears ahead of the Winter Olympics. A man wounded when a bomber set off a blast in the citys railway station Sunday died overnight,bringing the toll in that attack to 18. Regional governor Sergei Bazhenov said 16 died in a trolleybus bombing Monday. There was no indication that any of those held was connected to the attacks. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Mourners laid flowers at the site of the suicide bombing that tore the bus apart. reuters