Suicide bombings in Russia raise security fears
On 30 December, a blast tore through an electric bus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing 14, following a railway explosion a day earlier. Together more than 30 people were killed in the explosions, putting the city of one million on edge and highlighting the terrorist threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host the Winter Games in Sochi in February.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s main investigative agency, said in a statement that the bus explosion involved a bomb similar to the one used in the bombing at the city’s main railway station on 29 December. “That confirms the investigators’ version that the two terror attacks were linked,” Markin said. “They could have been prepared in one place.”
Markin said that a suicide attacker was responsible for the bus explosion, reversing an earlier official statement saying that the blast was caused by a bomb that had been left in the vehicle’s passenger area.
At least 14 people were killed and nearly 30 were wounded, according to public health officials.
Officials did not name names and no one has claimed responsibility for either bombing, but they came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including Olympics in Sochi.
The explosion ripped away much of the bus’s exterior and shattered windows in nearby buildings, AP reported.
Russian authorities have been slow to introduce stringent security checks on bus routes, making them the transport of choice for terrorists in the region. A few months ago authorities introduced a requirement for intercity bus passengers to produce ID when buying tickets, like rail or air passengers, but procedures have remained lax.
Even the tight railway security is sometimes not enough. In the railway suicide bombing the attacker detonated in the crowd in front of the station’s metal detectors.
The successive attacks in Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, signaled that militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.
On 29 December, US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said the United States condemns in the strongest terms a terrorist attack at the railway station in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. “We send our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and stand in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism of any kind,” he said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also strongly condemned the suicide attack in Volgograd. “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and I offer my condolences to the Russian government and to the victims and their families. I wish a full and speedy recovery to all those injured. There can be no excuse for such crimes. I hope that all those behind the attack will be brought swiftly to justice,” she said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “gave orders to the Russian government, specifically the Emergency Situations’ Ministry, the Health Ministry and the governor of Volgograd region, to take all necessary measures to render all the necessary assistance to the people afflicted by the explosion,” presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, Voice of Russia and Interfax reported.
“Putin said that if need be, the wounded should be expressly transferred to medical institutions in Moscow by special flights,” Peskov said. “The president instructed the Investigative Committee to take all the necessary investigative steps and law enforcement agencies to take all due measures to guarantee security,” he said.
On 30 December, Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev discussed assistance to those, who were either killed of injured as a result of the bombings in Volgograd.
Putin and Medvedev discussed a full range of issues related to the provision of medical, financial and other forms of assistance to support the people who were affected in the attacks. In connection with terrorist attacks at the railway station and in a trolleybus in Volgograd on 29 December and 30 December, Putin conducted a meeting with Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and the head of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov. After the meeting, Bortnikov was instructed to fly to Volgograd.
In October, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Officials said the attacker came from the province of Dagestan, which has become the center of an Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region after two separatist wars in Chechnya.
Russian state television reported that the explosion on 29 December occurred at the security gate at the station’s entrance. Footage from a security camera facing the station that was broadcast by Rossiya 24 television showed the moment of explosion: a bright orange flash inside the station behind the main gate followed by plumes of smoke.
The television showed a lineup of ambulances outside the station, and several motionless bodies placed on the pavement. The blast closely followed another attack on 27 December in the city of Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus Mountains when a car rigged with explosives blew up on a street in Pyatigorsk, the central of a federal administrative district intended to stabilise the North Caucasus region.
The insurgency has its roots in wars fought between separatist Chechen rebels and Russian forces, but it has spread throughout the North Caucasus region, which includes several mostly Muslim republics, according to AP.
In 2010, as concern about the rebellion grew in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, Russia created a new administrative district encompassing the Caucasus republics to try to coordinate efforts to wipe out the insurgency.