Suicide Attacks Continue to Plague the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 12 Issue: 17

On August 30, seven policemen, one person from the emergency situations ministry and a civilian died in a double suicide bomb attack in the Chechen capital Grozny that also left 23 people injured (, August 31). Two perpetrators of the attack were quickly identified as 22-year-old Magomed Dashaev from Urus Martan and a 21-year-old student of the Chechen Oil Institute, Adlan Khamidov from Novye Atagi (, August 30). The third slain assailant has not yet been identified. According to Ramzan Kadyrov, one of the suicide bombers was the brother of another suicide bomber, Adam Khamidov, who carried out a suicide bomb attack near the Grozny concert hall in on June 30 (, August 31).

The authorities claim they accidentally intercepted the suicide bombers when trying to stop people who were acting suspiciously. Government sources further asserted that the insurgents were gearing up for an attack on September 1 (, September 1) – an apparent attempt by officials to draw a line connecting the latest attack to the tragic hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia, on September 1, 2004, when rebels under Shamil Basaev’s command captured a school.  

However, the school year did not begin on September 1 in Chechnya this year. The opening of the schools was postponed until September 5, because the end of Ramadan was celebrated on August 31.  It is also unclear why would the rebels were walking around with explosives on them a full day before the attack was planned. The Russian news agency Life news, citing its own sources, presented a much more dramatic account of the events in Grozny.  According to the agency, there was a group of armed militants that provided support for the suicide bombers. So when the police started to arrive at the site of the explosion, the militants fired on them, causing casualties among the government forces that significantly exceeded the official numbers (, September 1). What is even worse, some sources claim that the number of suicide bombers at large might run as high as 60. This makes the government’s statements about having control over the situation unreasonably optimistic (, September 1).

The North Caucasian resistance movement’s media have provided an account of the Grozny attack very different from that of the Russian media. According to the rebels, two explosions followed by gunfire resulted in the deaths of up to 20 policemen, with an additional 23 officers wounded as a result of the attack (, August 31).

Whatever the case, it was the biggest attack by the militants this year, resulting in numerous casualties among law enforcement personnel. The fact that two young people, aged 21 and 22, became suicide bombers – one of them also being a student at a prestigious educational institution – is a sign of a deepening crisis in North Caucasian society. These young people were apparently not simply fooled, but rather chosen to die for their convictions. Suicide bombers are not necessarily people who have been offended and insulted by the government. Rather, they appear to be willing to give their lives for their ideology, which makes them especially irreconcilable and therefore dangerous for the government. Whether consciously or not, Chechen officials tend to regard the militants as errant young people fooled by the romanticism of the life in the forests. Officials think they can force these young people to surrender, if the government presses their relatives hard enough.

A Chechen journalist with the newspaper Severny Kavkaz conceded that youth in Chechnya are being pushed into the arms of the insurgents by the policies of the Chechen government which, in his view, is trapped between religion and Chechen national traditions. The former NTV TV channel military reporter Yelena Masyuk said she was not surprised by the militant attacks, since nothing has changed in the Kremlin’s policy toward Chechnya.  According to Masyuk, replacing crude force with an unrestrained infusion of money into the regional budget does not change significantly the circumstances of those who have taken up arms against the authorities (, August 31). Political scientist Andrei Yepifantsev supported this view as well, drawing attention to the fact that the issue of terrorism has not been resolved, but rather “driven into the deep” (, August 31, 2011).

There is also a question about the number of explosions that occurred during the August 30 Grozny suicide attack. People who live near the site of the attack reported that they heard seven explosions. Any information that arrives from Chechnya in the first moments after an incident comes from official Russian news agencies, such as Interfax, RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS. This allows the authorities to control and filter all information from Chechnya. Only a few human rights organizations in the republic can provide more balanced information, but only a few days after the event, given that they have to go slowly out of personal safety considerations.

Based on an analysis of open sources the independent Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website estimates that 12 suicide attacks took place in Russia in the first eight months of 2011, resulting in 64 people killed and 160 injured. Chechnya and Dagestan each experienced three suicide attacks, Ingushetia – two, Kabardino-Balkaria – one, and Moscow – one. In Chechnya, the suicide bombers acted in pairs or larger groups. Seven suicide bombers took part in three attacks in Chechnya: 2 suicide bombers in each of two attacks and three suicide bombers in the third attack. The number of victims in the Chechen attacks came second only to the suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport in Moscow in January 2011.

Similar to the attack in Grozny, an attack in Makhachkala, Dagestan occurred on August 21. Fifteen people, including three children, were injured in the double attack (, August 22). It was hardly a coincidence. On the contrary, the militants have likely already set up a centralized system of coordination and communications that allows them to stage attacks according to an identical scenario in various parts of the North Caucasus.

Despite the fact that the phenomenon of suicide bombers has spread to the North Caucasus from the Middle East, it is starting to acquire a local character. This probably means that the role of suicide bombers in the armed underground of the North Caucasus is still very important. It should also be taken into consideration that radicalism in the North Caucasus today is not deepening, but rather is adjusting to the local culture, which has negative attitude to suicide attacks in general.