Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 27

The experience of cities such as London or Tel Aviv has shown that one can get used to terrorism. Most people go about their daily business almost as if the threat did not exist; after all, for the average civilian the risk of a terrorist bomb is considerably less than that of a traffic accident. A recent experiment by journalist Olga Allenova, which she reported in the July 21 issue of Kommersant/Vlast, showed that Muscovites have also acquired this sang-froid. Perhaps it is necessary for psychic survival.

Allenova’s physical appearance enables her to pass as a “chernaya,” or “black,” from one of Russia’s Caucasian territories such as Chechnya. She donned an Islamic-style head covering as well as a black, shoulder-to-ankle outfit of the type that no Russian would wear in Moscow’s mid-summer heat. Over her shoulder she slung a backpack large enough to carry a powerful mine or grenade. She then visited the same places in the heart of Moscow that the bomb-toting Zarema Muzhikoeva had visited on the evening of July 10 (see Chechnya Weekly, July 17). She arranged for a male colleague, bearded and also dressed in black, to follow about ten yards behind her. The two of them spoke from time to time by cell phone, as if he were directing her.

Together the two journalists walked about the upscale shopping mall Okhotny Ryad near Red Square, then up Tverskaya Street to Pushkin Square–a rout that is roughly the equivalent of strolling north along New York’s Fifth Avenue to Central Park. Allenova went out of her way to act as suspiciously as possible, rummaging in her backpack and gazing about fearfully. For the most part the many private security guards of the neighborhood’s exclusive shops and restaurants simply ignored her. So did the crowds of shoppers–few even bothered to give her a second glance. If she had been a real terrorist, she could have killed dozens of civilians.

In an underground walkway Allenova came upon five city policemen. She drew back as if in fear, then turned again and hurried past them. They too ignored her even when she reached into her pack as if to detonate a bomb. She spent half an hour in the Pushkin Square McDonald’s; people glanced briefly at her and then seemed to forget her presence. Finally she visited the “Imbir” restaurant, where she was politely seated and served. That very restaurant was the scene of the July 10 explosion.