It was not until Friday, August 27—three days after the crashes of two Russian passenger jets—that the FSB finally acknowledged the likelihood that the tragedy was the result of a terrorist attack. Both planes had taken off from the same Moscow airport, and they crashed within a few minutes of each other.
In an interview published in Novaya gazeta on August 30, an official of the Rostov air-traffic control zone confirmed that a distress signal was received from one of the planes at 10:53 pm, and that at 10:55 pm it disappeared altogether from radar screens. Also, the airplane’s crew did not respond to a radio request that they confirm having sent the distress signal. Such a quick and total disappearance, said the air-traffic specialist, usually can be caused only by a mid-air explosion.
In the face of such glaring circumstantial evidence of terrorist activity, the authorities’ initial reluctance to consider that possibility earned them some scornful comment in what remains of the independent Russian news media.
Writing in the August 30 edition of Novaya gazeta, Valery Shiryaev noted that transportation minister Igor Levitin, head of the special commission which was quickly assembled to investigate the two crashes, said on August 24 that he did not see any connection between the two since “these were different airlines and they were flying to different cities.” Shiryaev accused the authorities of “disinformation.” Nadezhda Prusenkova noted in a separate article in the same newspaper that on August 25, the day after the crashes, the two main television channels avoided the term “terrorist attack.”
So far the only claim of responsibility for the crashes came from a shadowy group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades. That group’s statement, published on August 27 via an Arabic-language website, claimed that five “holy warriors” had been on board each of the two planes. The public statements of Russian authorities, by contrast, identified only two Chechen women—one on each plane—as likely suspects. One of the two was said to have a brother who had been kidnapped three years ago in Chechnya, possibly by federal troops.
The Islambouli Brigades had no previous known connection to Chechen separatists. A group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades of al-Qaida had claimed responsibility earlier this summer for an assassination attempt against the prime-minister-designate of Pakistan.
Spokesmen for the underground separatist government led by Aslan Maskhadov denied that their fighters had any connection with the tragedy.