Grozny Suicide Bombing: A ‘Lone Wolf’ or Signs of a New Militant Group Operating in Chechnya?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 20

The suicide bombing in the capital of Chechnya (RIA Novosti, October 5) carried out by 19-year-old Apti Mudarov (, October 5) during Grozny’s City Day celebrations on October 5 (Kommersant, October 6), which was also Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday (, October 5), would not be worth re-examining had significant new evidence not emerged. The attack in downtown Grozny killed five police officers and wounded 12 others (, October 5). Given the fact that this was the first terrorist attack in Chechnya in the past year, it is merits scrutinizing who possibly may have been behind the attack. The last suicide bombing took place in Chechnya on September 16, 2013, when an attacker attempted to blow up the police station in Chechnya’s Sunzha district (YouTube, September 16, 2013). Three people died and five persons were injured in that attack.

Immediately following the latest suicide bombing, investigators reported they had “managed to track down the presumed organizers” of the attack and that an “active search operation” was under way with the goal of “locating, arresting or neutralizing the criminals” (, October 15).

Thus, the authorities themselves undermined the official version that the attack was carried out by a “loner suicide bomber.” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov insisted on this version in his explanation of the terror attack in Grozny immediately after it happened (, October 5;, October 6). Well-known analysts and journalists also put forward this version (, October 6). It is attractive because it portrays terrorist attacks as accidental events that have no relation to the real problems in Chechnya. The easiest way to show that everyone in Chechnya is happy with Moscow’s policies was to dismiss this terrorist attack as the act of a mentally unstable person.

In reality, the investigators pursued other theories, including the possibility that the attack was carried out by a group of people. Approximately ten days after the attack, they announced that they were looking for 33-year-old Aslan Aliskhanov, who planned to carry out an attack using a suicide bomber belt (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 16). By the morning of October 18, Russian information agencies reported that Aslan Aliskhanov was killed when the police tried to arrest him (TASS, October 18). Does this mean that the problem is over? Not likely.

The police detained the mother, uncle and sister of the bomber, Mudarov, as well as family members of one of Mudarov’s friends, Magomed Yusupov, who is currently studying in Egypt at one of its Islamic universities. In addition, everyone who knew the presumed suicide attacker has been detained and interrogated (, October 16). Thus, as of today, there are several possible suspects in this case—Aslan Aliskhanov, Magomed Yusupov and someone identified as Magomed Z. Together with Mudarov, the group already consists of four people, all of them from Grozny (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 18).

The authorities apparently believe the attack by Apti Mudarov was pre-planned by a group. So far the security services have not yet been able to establish the identity of the group or its connections. This suspicion may be connected to a statement posted on the Russian social networking website VKontakte asserting that Chechens fighting in Syria, in particular, members of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, the group headed by Emir Salaudin, carried out the October 5 attack in Grozny. But this statement did not hold up to scrutiny, and the authors, apparently realizing they had gone too far, later removed their post (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 17).

A separate issue is what is going on inside the Caucasus Emirate, the armed underground in the North Caucasus. The group’s leader, Sheikh Abu Muhammad, called on his followers to reject suicide attacks unless there is a danger of being captured by the enemy (YouTube, July 7). Thus, suicide bombing is considered to be a form of self-defense, not a form of attack against the Russian government and police units. Speaking of attacks, the Caucasus Emirate leader clearly expressed a negative attitude toward them. How, then, was the terrorist attack in Grozny possible given that it went against the wishes and calls of the Caucasus Emirate leader? None of the Caucasus Emirate’s members have ever refused to carry out an order given by its emir. It is quite likely that there may be a new group operating in Chechnya that does not belong to the Caucasus Emirate. The secrecy of the Chechen jamaat after years of brutal suppression must have created a situation in which some groups became entirely disconnected from everyone else. Having no opportunity to become members of the Chechen jamaat, some young people may have opted to self-organize and act in parallel without having contacts with the official jamaat. The suicide attack in Grozny was not the result of ideological differences inside the Caucasus Emirate, but of the impossibility for young urban people to establish contacts with the jamaat.

It is too early to say what exactly is happening, but if this is a new group, it will be another challenge to the Russian security services, because developing an understanding of the new rebel organization and planting moles to defeat it will require time.

Lastly, the suicide bombing that occurred on Grozny’s City Day was not recognized officially as a terrorist attack. Instead, it was classified as an attack on police officers and a case of illegal arms possession (Kavkazsky Uzel, October 5). However, the Russian authorities are unlikely to improve the situation in the region by manipulating information. Indeed, they should pay more attention to the essence of the conflict with young Islamists rather than sanitizing the statistics on militant attacks.