Before the commotion over the possible death of the well-known Chechen rebel emir Zaurbek Avdorkhanov in the Ingush village of Galashki on July 29 had subsided (www.chechenews.com/world-news/breaking/8565-1.html), suicide bombers attacked in Grozny. As of August 8, it was still unclear whether Avdorkhanov was really killed, since only the bodies of two other alleged rebels, Ibragim Avdorkhanov and Ayub Khaladov, were displayed on Chechen TV.
In the August 6 attack, two suicide bombers struck the Oktyabrsky district of Grozny on Baisangur Benovsky Street, which is on the border of the town of Michurin and Minutka Square. The attack took place on the anniversary of the storming of Grozny by Chechen militants in August 1996 (www.ntv.ru/novosti/318782/). The location of the attack – near a military-owned store where some military personnel are always present buying food and clothing – was selected for a specific reason. The store is located right in front of the entrance of the Russian military base in Khankala and at the juncture of a city highway. A suicide bomber reportedly ran up to a group of servicemen and blew himself up next to their armored minivan just as they were leaving the store. When other military personnel started to run toward the victims, a second suicide bomber apparently struck. Three Russian Interior Ministry troops died on the spot and a fourth died in the hospital (www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/08/06/4713257.shtml).
Three people were also injured in the blasts, including two civilians. The remains of a body found at the incident probably belonged to the suicide bombers. However, on a video recorded by a surveillance camera posted by the Russian news website Lifenews, it can be seen that the blast seems to have taken place prior to the time the two suspected suicide bombers could have reached its location. The crater from the blast is next to the wall of the building, while the car next to which the suspected attackers supposedly blew themselves up did not even move at the time of the explosion, although the car dropped its front bumper, which was facing the store (http://lifenews.ru/news/99040). Therefore, an initial report by the Chechen Interior Ministry may have been truthful: it said that the servicemen were blown up during a demining operation. Another peculiarity of the attack was the fact that parts of the suicide bomber’s belt survived, which is quite unusual. Normally, only the head of a suicide bomber survives the blast.
The police initially said that the servicemen died as they were demining the area. On the evening of the same day, however, the Chechen Interior Ministry stated that the blast was a terrorist attack and a criminal investigation was launched. Preliminary information reported on August 7 suggested there were two suicide bombers – 29-year-old Ali Demilkhanov, a resident of Geldygen village in Kurchaloi district, and 25-year-old Salman Gekhaev, a resident of the city of Gudermes. Gekhaev had previously been convicted of participating in an illegal armed group (www.rg.ru/2012/08/08/reg-skfo/opozn-anons.html).
It remains a mystery as to what compelled a young 25-year old man to become a suicide bomber. But Russian prisons are a breeding a ground of hatred for everything Russian, given that incarcerated Muslims often are treated in degrading ways and their religious views are habitually flouted. Therefore, it is not surprising that the number of former convicts who join the insurgency is quite high.
Speaking to the media on the evening of August 6, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov admitted that the recent blasts were a suicide attack. Kadyrov said that well-known insurgent leaders, the brothers Hussein and Muslim Gakaev, may have been behind the attack. Hussein Gakaev is Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov’s deputy and Muslim Gakaev oversees insurgent activities in the Shali and Vedeno districts of Chechnya. “This is typical of the Gakaevs’ tactics – find ill, feeble-minded people, drug them and send them to their death,” Kadyrov said on August 7 (www.rferl.org/content/kadyrov-implicates-gakayev-brothers-in-grozny-bombing/24669216.html).
The Gakaev brothers are among the most wanted militants in Chechnya. Their subordinates have carried out suicide attacks on a number of occasions. The hottest year for suicide bombers in the republic was 2009, when 10 suicide attacks took place in the period between May and October (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/161321/). The wave of suicide bombing in the republic eventually subsided. In 2011, only one suicide attack took place in Chechnya: nine people died in Grozny in a triple suicide bomb attack on August 30. The last time a suicide attack took place in 2012 was on February 9 in Grozny, when a suicide bomber exploded several IEDs, injuring several riot policemen (aka OMON) (www.kommersant.ru/doc/1996679). Suicide bombers (called Shahids by the militants) do not enjoy much support and understanding among a majority of the population in Chechnya. This tactic, which was introduced to Chechnya by volunteers from the Middle East, is completely incompatible with Chechen social and cultural norms and is not something that comes easily to the Chechen mentality.
Meanwhile, in Chechnya’s mountainous Vedeno district, an armed clash occurred between government forces and militants. Two servicemen were injured and the search for members of the armed group involved in the clash continued (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210885/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter). It is probably not an accident that a police and military operation was launched in this area, since it is where the Gakaev brothers operate.
Thus, if we accept the authorities’ version of events and agree that a suicide attack did indeed take place, it probably means that suicide bombings, which keep recurring in Chechnya and Dagestan, are not merely a temporary tactic of the militants, and that similar attacks are likely to follow. These attacks have a negative impact on the Kremlin’s image and policies in the region. As the 2014 Sochi Olympics approach, Moscow will have to expend much effort and resources to prove to the international community that the North Caucasus is not a flashpoint for the government as it combats an armed and highly motivated insurgent movement that extends from one end of the North Caucasus to the other.