Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 27

A top official of the Federal Security Service (FSB) said yesterday that Russia’s special services know the identities of “practically all” the persons involved in the September 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and the August 2000 bombing of the pedestrian underpass beneath the capital’s Pushkin Square. “The search for people who committed terrorist attacks, including the apartment bombings and the blast at Moscow’s Pushkin Square, is underway,” Viktor Zakharov, head of the FSB department for Moscow and Moscow Oblast, told RTR state television. “In fact, all the people [involved in the terrorist attacks] are known: Some of them have been detained and already brought to justice, and others are being actively searched for…. This work will go on until all those people are found and brought to justice” (Interfax, February 6). The bombings of two Moscow apartment buildings on September 8 and 13, 1999, which killed more than 200 people, were part of a wave of bombings that month which the Russian authorities blamed on Chechen-led Islamic militants. Those bombings, together with the armed Chechen rebel raid into Dagestan led by Shamil Basaev and Khattab the previous month, sparked Russia’s military intervention in Chechnya in October 1999.

Zakharov’s statement may reflect nervousness on the part of the authorities, particularly the FSB, about Boris Berezovsky’s claim that the special services themselves organized the Moscow apartment building bombings, along with the bombing of another apartment building in the southern city of Volgodonsk, in order to spark a new war in Chechnya and pave the way for Vladimir Putin’s election as president. Berezovsky first made this allegation last December, in the midst of legal proceedings to have his TV-6 television channel liquidated–a process the tycoon claims was part of a Kremlin-inspired political campaign against him. The tycoon subsequently said that he would make documentary evidence proving his allegations public by the end of February and that he was producing a film about the bombings (see the Monitor, January 17, February 1). The FSB initially dismissed Berezovsky’s allegations as “complete madness” (see the Monitor, December 17, 2001), but later responded in a more concrete fashion: FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said his agency had documentary evidence that Berezovsky had financed Chechen “illegal armed formations and their leaders” and would pass this information on to law enforcement agencies abroad (see the Monitor, January 25). The Prosecutor General’s Office then charged the tycoon, who is already on Russia’s wanted list for his alleged role in embezzling funds from the state airline Aeroflot, with financing the Chechen rebels beginning in 1997, when he was deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council. Berezovsky, for his part, claimed his transfer of funds to the Chechen rebels was officially sanctioned and often involved freeing hostages (see the Monitor, January 30).

After the new charges against Berezovsky were filed, the tycoon again went public. This time he told the New York Times that his allegations were the reason Patrushev accused him of financing the Chechen rebels and that he had “facts” showing that Patrushev and other FSB officials were involved in the apartment building bombings. Berezovsky said he had no “facts” showing that Putin, who was prime minister in September 1999, was “involved personally” in those bombings. Berezovsky told the Times that an incident in the city of Ryazan in September 1999 was the “key” to his case. In that incident, local residents and police caught individuals in an apartment building planting what appeared to be explosives, which the FSB subsequently claimed were bags of sugar that were part of a security “exercise.”

More intriguingly, Berezovsky told the Times that the evidence he has backing the allegation of official collusion in the apartment building bombings is “no less than the evidence the United States had that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the World Trade Center attack” (New York Times, February 1). He was not more specific than this, but it is interesting to note that what the U.S. government put forward as definitive evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks was a video tape found in Afghanistan on which the Saudi terrorist brags about the attacks. It is by no means certain that Berezovsky has evidence that Patrushev and/or other FSB officials were involved in the 1999 apartment building bombings or, if so, how convincing that evidence is. Is it, for example, audio, video or simply documents? But Moscow FSB chief Viktor Zakharov’s comments yesterday that the special services know who carried out the bombings suggests some nervousness on the part of his agency.