The scourge of terrorism was horrifically visited upon southern Russia last week, when a radio-controlled mine packed with bolts and nails went off in the Dagestani seaside town of Kaspiisk. The blast, which happened during a May 9 parade marking the fifty-second anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, killed both civilians, including elderly veterans of the Great Patriotic War and more than a dozen children, and servicemen, including members of a Marine marching band. The death toll reached a staggering forty-two. Putin compared the bombing’s perpetrators to the Nazis and the war on international terrorism to the war against fascism six decades ago. President Bush sent condolences on behalf of the American people.
That this blast was not the Caspian Sea coast town’s most lethal–a November 1996 bombing of an apartment building killed sixty-nine people–testifies to the virulent mix of criminality and political instability that has spread cancer-like in many parts of the North Caucasus over the last decade. As with the 1996 bombing, no one claimed responsibility for the latest Kaspiisk atrocity. Anonymous security officials, however, pointed an accusing finger at Islamic extremists–specifically, a band led by a Dagestani “Wahhabi” who had been trained in terrorist training camps set up in Chechnya by Khattab, the Saudi-born Chechen rebel field commander who was reportedly killed in a Russian special operation this past March. The Dagestani militants, who reportedly participated in the August 1999 Chechen rebel-led incursion into Dagestan, allegedly carried out a number of terrorist attacks prior to the Kaspiisk blast, including the bombing this past January of a truck transporting Interior Minister troops in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, which killed seven servicemen. While the theory that Islamists were behind the Kaspiisk bombing was perfectly plausible and supported by most observers, there were other, more Byzantine, counter theories. For example, Aleksandr Zhardetsky, former head of the Soviet KGB’s military counterintelligence department, suggested in an interview with Pravda.ru that while Islamic militants may literally have lit the fuse, “everything that happens in the North Caucasus comes from Moscow” and urged Putin to “more attentively” purge his apparat.
Whatever the case, it is likely that the May 9 bombing in Kaspiisk will be added to Russia’s myriad unsolved crimes. Indeed, just this week the Prosecutor General’s Office essentially closed the books on the September 1999 terrorist bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which killed several hundred people, was blamed on Chechen militants and became the proximate cause for Russia’s second military intervention in Chechnya in less than a decade. Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov said that while all the terrorists who had carried out those bombings had been identified “long ago,” they were “in another CIS country” and therefore impossible to catch. Khattab and another Arab mercenary fighting in Chechnya, Abu al-Walid al-Gamidi, masterminded the September 1999 bombings, Kolmogorov added, but they were both dead. Boris Berezovsky and others have alleged that the Federal Security Service organized the 1999 bombings as a way to provoke a new Chechen war and propel Putin into power.