Twin suicide bombings approximately 50 minutes apart hit the Moscow metro on March 29, during the morning rush hour, detonating as trains arrived at busy stations, killing 39 people and closing one of the busiest metro lines for nine hours. After the attacks, there were numerous calls by citizens about other alleged bombs that turned out to be false. The metro closure and the evacuation of the dead and wounded caused traffic jams and increased the overall sense of panic. Taxi drivers (most of them unofficial) used the opportunity to increase their normal fare to over $100 per trip. On March 30, there were visibly fewer passengers on the Moscow metro, especially on the red line (Interfax, March 29, 30).
Two days later, on March 31, another twin bomb attack hit the town of Kizlyar, in Dagestan. A car bomb driven by a suicide bomber exploded in the center of Kizlyar. However, most of the casualties occurred, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman detonated a device in the midst of a group of officers investigating the site of the car bombing. Among the 12 killed, nine were policemen, including the town’s chief of police and an investigator from the prosecutor’s office. Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, announced during a cabinet meeting in Moscow, “The attack in Kizlyar may have been organized by the same terrorists that planned the Moscow explosions” (www.newsru.com, March 31).
The authorities and the press were quick to blame North Caucasian Islamist terrorists that are fighting the Russian military and local pro-Moscow forces –in particular the organization known as Imarat Kavkaz, led by a Chechen, Doku Umarov. It was alleged that the metro bombings were a revenge attack for recent killings by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the North Caucasus of Imarat Kavkaz leading figures: Anzor Astemirov, and Aleksander Tikhomirov, known as Said Buryatsky. Moscow police and the FSB reportedly received information about a possible terrorist attack by female suicide bombers in the metro but, apparently, failed to stop them (Kommersant, March 30).
Umarov said in a video posted on the rebel website kavkazcenter.com that he had ordered the Moscow attacks. In a previous audio recording, translated by the Georgian government-financed Russian-language First Caucasian Channel, Umarov allegedly accused the FSB and Putin of organizing the bombing of the metro and disclaimed responsibility (www.1k-tv.com, March 31). Radio Liberty reporter, Andrei Babitsky, who has met Umarov many times, announced that the voice on the tape was not authentic (www.apsny.ge, March 31).
The speaker of the official pro-Moscow Chechen parliament, Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, told reporters: “Top officials’ today blame the North Caucasus region, but we blame Moscow security forces, who were either negligent or assisted, the attackers” (www.rosbalt.ru, March 30). The pro-Moscow Ingush President, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, told Interfax that there was no evidence linking Ingushetia to the metro attack (Interfax, March 30).
Putin, who on March 29 visited Krasnoyarsk, promptly returned to Moscow, praising emergency workers, firemen, and medics for outstanding work, announced that video surveillance cameras had captured images of the alleged two female suicide bombers. The footage, according to Putin, could also help find alleged terrorist accomplices and the “masterminds of this crime.” He added: “We know they are lying low, but our security services will drag them out of the sewer into broad daylight” (Interfax, March 30). President Dmitry Medvedev called the organizers of the metro bombings “animals” and promised they “will be found and destroyed” (Interfax, March 29). Both Putin and Medvedev promised to strengthen security and punish terrorists with more vigor. There were public calls in the Russian parliament to introduce the death penalty for organizing terrorist attacks, but the authorities say they are not considering such action at present (Interfax, March 30).
Muscovites are shaken by the metro attack and demand speedy decisive action from the authorities, whom they accuse of negligence. The prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, believes that the authorities will use this week’s terrorist attacks as a pretext to clamp down on the opposition and “there will be more censorship” (www.grani.ru, March 30). However, the authorities do not need such reasons to silence the present minuscule anti-Putin opposition. A series of mysterious apartment block bombings in Moscow and other cities, killed 307 people in 1999. Chechen rebels were accused of the crime without any compelling evidence and this provided Putin with a pretext to invade Chechnya, beginning a long bloody war that still continues. Today, the Russian forces do not require any additional pretext to take more action in the North Caucasus: rebels there are constantly hunted down and killed, but new ones join the cause, while the possibility of more draconian security measures has already upset the pro-Russian leaders in Chechnya and Ingushetia.
The Secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, (former chief of the FSB) told Interfax that not only Islamist rebels from the North Caucasus, but also Georgia, may be involved in the metro bombings (Interfax, March 31). The FSB has previously accused Georgian special services of organizing terrorist attacks inside Russia (ITAR-TASS, February 3). In response to Patrushev, the Minister for Reintegration, Temur Yakobashvili, announced that Georgia is ready to cooperate in any antiterrorist investigation along with Russia, but the present state of bilateral relations makes that unlikely (Interfax, March 31). The supposedly falsified recording of Umarov accusing Russia of masterminding the terrorist attacks, translated by a Georgian government-controlled TV, has angered Moscow. If Russia follows up anti-Georgian accusations with threat of force or action, a serious crisis in the region is possible, and maybe a new war.