Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 25

In what has become a familiar pattern, Russian security agencies began blaming Chechens for the latest terrorist attack in Moscow almost before the dust had settled. President Putin announced that the July 5 bombing of a rock concert in the northwestern suburb of Tushino not only proved that Chechens are part of a global terrorist network, but that they are “perhaps the most dangerous part of the international terrorist web.” The FSB inadvertently undermined the most extravagant of Putin’s charges by announcing that the bombs used by the terrorists were crude homemade devices. But it also stated that the passport of one of the suicide bombers had been found near her body, along with a train ticket. These documents, according to the pro-Kremlin daily Rossiskaya gazeta, identified Zalikhan Elikhadzhieva as a 20-year-old Chechen who had recently spent time in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge.

In a July 8 article for Moskovskie novosti, correspondent Sanobar Shermatova expressed skepticism about the authorities’ claims. She pointed out that the latest episode was significantly different from those of other terrorist attacks in both Chechnya and Russia. Previous attacks by the Chechen separatists either have been directed at targets of major political importance–such as the Kadyrov administration’s headquarters in Grozny–or have been linked to demands for specific policy changes by the Russian government, such as a cease-fire. The Chechen rebel leaders, including even the extremists among them such as Shamil Basaev, have never been proved to have murdered ordinary Russian civilians simply as an end in itself. (Some would point to last autumn’s hostage taking episode at the Dubrovka theater in Moscow as an exception. But Shermatova and others, including investigators of the Moscow procuracy, believe that the original objective of that attack, which may have been diverted by double agents under the command of Russia’s special services, was the federal Duma building.)

As for Elikhadzhieva, Shermatova pointed out some gaps in the Russian authorities’ chain of evidence and logic. “As a rule,” she wrote, “female suicide bombers don’t ‘go to work’ with their passports on their persons: In the case of the hostage taking at the Dubrovka the majority of the guerrillas turned out to have false passports which they had received in Chechnya. The reason for this is not only the rules of conspiratorial activity, but also the desire to protect one’s relatives from criminal investigation or blood revenge. It was precisely because of this that it turned out to be so difficult to track down the relatives of the six female suicide bombers who took part in the Dubrovka operation.” Shermatova noted that the principle of collective family responsibility is highly developed in Chechnya. She cited the recent murders of several relatives of a woman suspected of taking part in the May assassination attempt against Kadyrov. Thus, suggested Shermatova, “it is entirely possible that the passport found at the site of the latest tragedy…is also a counterfeit and that it will not lead us to the masterminds of this terrorist attack.”

In the strongest language that he has used about the Chechen secessionists since his 1999 statement vowing to “rub them out even in the outhouse,” Putin said that “it is useless to try preventive measures with these people; they must be dug up out of their basements and caves where they are still hiding, and destroyed.”

The Tushino attack caused at least fifteen deaths, including those of the two suicide bombers. More than fifty were wounded. According to Moskovskie novosti, surgeons removed from the victims’ bodies various forms of homemade shrapnel that have become all too familiar in these cases, such as ball bearings, plus a gruesome novelty–fish hooks.