Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 26

The latest bombing in Moscow is one of the most puzzling to occur so far. Like the previous week’s attack on a suburban rock concert, the apparent target of this bomb, which exploded outside a cafe in the heart of the city during the night of July 9-10, was completely non-political. Even if the objective was simply to kill civilians, it is hard to understand why the operation’s planners would pick a target that would be largely deserted at midnight in mid-week. Tverskaya Street is the main upscale shopping area in Russia’s richest city–the equivalent of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. If a terrorist band were to take the trouble and risk of mounting an attack in such a well-guarded neighborhood, one would expect them to pick a more grandiose target.

The behavior of the woman bomber seems to have been erratic, though perhaps that simply reflects either the emotional volatility of someone who would agree to perform such an act, or a last-minute awakening of conscience. According to an account by Aleksandr Agamov published on July 11 by the pro-Kremlin website, the woman carried the bomb not under her clothes but in a conspicuous backpack. This is just the sort of object that–when slung over the shoulder of a woman with Caucasian features–is likely to attract attention in today’s Moscow. Eyewitnesses said that she acted in such a way as to guarantee that she would call to herself the attention of the cafe’s private security guards. She then told the police that she was carrying an explosive device and even showed them its wires and push-button. According to one account, she even pressed the button several times. Reportedly, the police then handcuffed the woman and conducted her to a police station, taking the bomb out to the street and leaving it there for a specialized bomb squad to disarm. As Agamov observed, it would appear either that the bomb failed to work or that the woman failed to steel herself to carry out the attack.

“It is incomprehensible,” Agamov wrote, “why the first police to arrive on the scene decided to pick up her pack and carry it to the other side of the street….If the bomb was set to be triggered by remote control, then why was that done not while it was still inside the cafe and surrounded by people, but only when the only person near it was an FSB bomb technician?” That technician, Major Georgy Trofimov, was the lone person killed when the bomb finally exploded. A possibility that Agamov failed to consider: Whoever was operating the remote control deliberately waited until Russian servicemen would be the only casualties.

There other elements of the “official” version of what happened on the night of July 9-10 that do not seem to make sense. For example, did the woman bomber have, or did she not have, a co-conspirator on the scene? The first reports said that a man had accompanied her into the cafe and then left. Somewhat later it was announced that this accomplice resembled a criminal–a native of Grozny named Zurab Dadaev–already on the “wanted” list of the Russian authorities. By the evening of July 10, however, the authorities had retracted that version. The head of the Interior Ministry instead stated that “We are not seeking an accomplice in this situation, by which I mean someone who might have been found together with the woman terrorist.”

As the article observed: “One could understand this either as a denial of the presence of an accomplice, or as a delayed announcement that the accomplice was no longer being sought because he had been found and arrested. But the latter interpretation seems less plausible: one usually does not announce one’s successes in such a fashion. The question arises: Where did the woman terrorist’s notorious accomplice disappear to…or in fact did he even exist? Tverskaya Street has a long row of expensive stores and banks, the security systems of which include many closed-circuit TV cameras monitoring both their interiors and their outside approaches. It is difficult to imagine that the hypothetical accomplice did not know this, or that he consciously chose to reveal himself…”

Meanwhile, the woman herself has been undergoing police interrogation. Initial reports identified her as a 22-year-old Chechen named Zarema Muzhikhoyeva, but according to the article she has changed some elements of her story several times since her arrest–including her name.