A bombing near the Rizhskaya metro station in northeastern Moscow on August 31 may have been the work of a female suicide bomber who was the sister of a Chechen woman suspected of having blown up one of the two airliners brought down on August 24. While initial press reports suggested that the blast was caused by a car bomb, witnesses and officials, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, said it was caused by a female suicide bomber who sought to enter the metro station but turned around after seeing two policemen posted at the station’s entrance. The area outside the station was reportedly crowded when the bomb, apparently attached to the woman, went off. The blast killed at least ten people, including the suspected bomber, and wounded more than 50, while setting several cars on fire and blowing out windows in nearby buildings. Luzhkov said the force of the blast equaled about a kilogram of TNT (Interfax, Itar-Tass, September 1).
RIA Novosti quoted “a source close to the investigation” as saying that the bomber could have been Roza Nagaeva, sister of Amanat Nagaeva, who is suspected of having detonated a bomb aboard the Tu-134 airliner that went down near Tula one week earlier. Amanat Nagaeva’s passport was found at the site of the crash, and the passport of Satsita Dzhebirkhanova, a Chechen woman suspected of bringing down a Tu-154 airliner that crashed near Rostov-on-Don on August 24, was found in the wreckage of that crash (Regnum.ru, August 30). Izvestiya reported on August 30 that the two women shared an apartment in Grozny, the Chechen capital, with Roza Nagaeva and a fourth woman, Maryam Taburova. Following the August 24 air crashes, various media reported that the security agencies were searching for the latter two women, who had reportedly traveled to Moscow to carry out more suicide bombings. The paper cited unnamed law-enforcement officials as putting forward an alternate theory — that the four women, who reportedly left Grozny for Baku, Azerbaijan, prior to the air crashes, may have been murdered there by terrorists who then used their passports to board the ill-fated August 24 flights (Izvestiya, August 30; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 1).
Whatever the case, Gazeta reported that special anti-terrorist units of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had been called into work on August 30 and told that there was a high probability of terrorist attacks in Moscow in areas with large concentrations of people, above all the metro system and large shopping centers. “But, as yesterday’s events showed, this brought no real results,” the paper wrote (Gazeta, September 1).
A group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing outside the Rizhskaya metro station in a statement posted on an Islamist website, calling it an “operationÉ in support of Muslims in Chechnya” (Reuters, August 31). The group had also claimed responsibility for the August 24 airline crashes, and some media have reported that the group is ideologically affiliated with the assassins of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and may be linked to al-Qaeda (see EDM, August 30). Referring to the Islambouli Brigades’ two claims of responsibility, the pro-Chechen separatist website Chechenpress.com wrote, “It cannot be ruled out that we are dealing with a carefully planned operation by the Russian special services whose aim is to convince the world community of the ties that supposedly exist between the Chechen resistance and al-Qaeda” (Chechenpress.com, September 1).
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the bombing outside Rizhskaya metro station was “a reaction by the Chechen separatists to the normalization that is being felt in Chechnya.” He told Ekho Moskvy radio, “Chechnya is going into parliamentary elections with completely obvious prospects for finally normalizing the situation in the republic, which hardly suits the separatists,” (Interfax, September 1). The European Union, it should be noted, expressed concern about “persistent reports” that Chechnya’s August 29 presidential elections “were neither free nor fair,” adding that it would press for early parliamentary elections in Chechnya “and for those elections to be held in a way that can be regarded as free and fair” (Agence France-Presse, August 31). President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that parliamentary elections in Chechnya should be held by next spring (MosNews, August 16). The Kremlin-backed candidate, Alu Alkhanov, won the August 29 presidential elections amid charges that the contest had been rigged (see EDM, August 30).
Meanwhile, Malik Saidullaev, the Moscow-based Chechen businessman who was denied registration as a candidate in Chechnya’s presidential race on what many observers said was flimsy grounds, told RBK television that the recent series of terrorist acts may have been a reaction to the August 29 election. Saidullaev said that many media, especially state-owned media, have been reporting of late, “Everything in Chechnya is marvelous: all the inhabitants are working in agriculture, Grozny is being built anew.” The terrorist attacks show that this is not the case, he said. Saidullaev added, however, that a careful investigation should be conducted into who carried out the terrorist attacks and who ordered them before concluding that only a “Chechen trace” was involved (Newsru.com, September 1).