Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 27

Exactly who perpetrated the September 1999 terrorist bombings in Russia remains an open question. For example, five men from the southern Russian republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia went on trial last July for organizing the Moscow and Volgodonsk blasts. But while they were eventually sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine to fifteen years for plotting various terrorist attacks across Russia, the charges concerning the Moscow and Volgodonsk blasts were dropped (see the Monitor, February 4, October 31, 2001).

News reports in September 1999 were equally murky. On September 9 of that year, the day after the first apartment building bombing in Moscow, the Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev told the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny: “The latest blast in Moscow is not our work, but the work of the Dagestanis. Russia has been openly terrorizing Dagestan, it encircled three villages in the center of Dagestan, did not allow women and children to leave” (BBC, September 30, 1999). Just a few days later, however, Basaev categorically denied that Islamic fighters were involved in the bombings, telling Agence France Presse that the attacks were connected with “Russian domestic politics” and that claims by the Russian government that Osama bin Laden was behind the events in Dagestan were “lies” (see the Monitor, September 14, 1999). Later in September 1999, the Itar-Tass state news agency reported that a man with “a Caucasus accent” and claiming to represent the “Dagestan Liberation Army” had telephoned to claim responsibility for the bombings. The caller said the Moscow blasts, along with an earlier bombing of an apartment block in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk, was “retribution” for the Russian air force’s “terrorist actions” in Dagestan and Chechnya. “We wish to state that not one of the Russian pilots’ bombs will go without a response,” Itar-Tass quoted the caller as saying. “Not one of the lives of our children and women will go unavenged” (BBC, September 15, 1999). A person claiming to be from a group called the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Dagestan had earlier taken responsibility for the August 31, 1999 bomb explosion in Moscow’s Manezh shopping mall, which killed one person, saying the blast was in response to the Russian military action in Dagestan. However officials from both the Interior Ministry and FSB at the time expressed skepticism over that claim (AP, September 3, 1999; see the Monitor, September 10, 1999).

In March 2000, two men were sentenced to life imprisonment and four received life sentences for carrying out the September 1999 truck bombing of an apartment building in Buinaksk, which killed sixty-two people. While one of those convicted admitted he had worked for the Chechen rebel field commander Khattab, he claimed he had not taken part in combat operations and had not known about the planned bombing when he agreed to drive the truck from Khattab’s camp to Buinaksk. He also insisted that he and his co-defendants had been “framed” and that the Russian secret services were “fully informed about the transport of explosives from Chechnya to Dagestan” (see the Monitor, February 4).