Theories Behind Moscow Metro Attacks Abound

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 71

Mariam Sheripova

On April 11, the Dagestani branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) declared it was fighting a group of Islamist insurgents led by Magomedali Vagabov in the Karabudakhkent district of Dagestan (Interfax, April 11). Mariam Sharipova, who is thought to have been one of the two suicide bombers in the Moscow metro on March 29, was reportedly Vagabov’s wife (Kommersant, April 8). If the counter-terrorist operation in Karabudakhkent ends up as similar operations normally do in the North Caucasus, Vagabov will probably be killed, not arrested, and one more lead to answering the enigma of the surprise subway attacks in Moscow will be lost.

Seventeen-year-old Dzhennet Abdullaeva was identified as one of the suspected suicide bombers in the Moscow metro attack that claimed 40 lives (EDM, Kommersant, April 2). Soon afterwards, Rasul Magomedov from the mountainous area of Dagestan contacted the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and said he recognized his daughter, 28-year-old Mariam Sharipova, as the second suicide bomber. Magomedov also notified the police immediately after speaking with the journalists (Novaya Gazeta, April 2).

Both suspected female bombers were described by the media as widows of insurgent leaders, which explained their resolve to carry out attacks. Dzhennet Abdullaeva was reportedly an Islamic wife of Umalat Magamedov, the leader of the Dagestani underground movement Shariah Jamaat, who was killed on December 31, 2009. A Jordanian-born Doctor Muhammad was reportedly Mariam Sharipova’s first Islamist husband, and he was killed on August 30, 2009 (Kommersant, April 8). The motive for these women to retaliate seems fairly obvious, but by March 29 Sharipova already had another Islamist husband –Magomedali Vagabov.

Radio Free Europe observed that while Doku Uamrov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate, which claimed responsibility for the attack, stated Moscow was bombed on his orders for the earlier killing of impoverished men around the Chechen village of Arshty village on February 11, the suicide bombers came from Dagestan. On March 31, Shamsudin Batukaev, spokesman for the North Caucasus emirate, called Reuters from Turkey and said, “We did not carry out the attack in Moscow, and we don’t know who did it” (Reuters, March 31). That same day, the TV channel First Caucasus broadcast footage of a man it identified as an insurgent representative, who denied the insurgency’s involvement in the attack, attributing it instead to the Russian security services.

Both denials were very significant developments, as the Caucasus Emirate had regularly taken responsibility not only for the violent attacks, but even for technological disasters in Russia. A few hours later, however, the Kavkaz Center website broadcast Doku Umarov’s statement claiming responsibility for the attack. Radio Free Europe pointed out that Umarov’s green grassy surroundings were not typical for the mountainous areas of Chechnya at this time of the year. It also reported that some specialists doubted Umarov’s lips were moving in synch with the words he said. Google’s efforts to remove Umarov’s video address, which angered Moscow, from YouTube, made it even more difficult to analyze the authenticity of the video (as of April 11 there was still at least one copy of the address available on YouTube).

There are some logistical discrepancies, too. Investigators say that the two suicide bombers left Dagestan on March 27 and arrived in Moscow on March 29, the same day as the metro bombings. However, the mother of one of the suspects, Mariam Sharipova, insists her daughter was still with her on March 28 (Novaya Gazeta, April 8). Kommersant reported on April 9 that investigators carried out searches at Mariam Sharipova’s house and her work place, and found little evidence about her involvement in the attack.

Sharipova’s father spent 35 years of his life teaching Russian language and literature at the local school in the village of Balkhani. His daughter Mariam had combined degrees in mathematics and psychology. Mariam was likely to have been the most educated person in this remote, mountainous village. If it is proven that Sharipova was one of the suicide bombers, it will emphasize how Russian state ideologues are losing the brightest and the youngest Dagestanis to the insurgency.

The well-known Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky pointed out that the bomb attacks in the Moscow metro coincided with Moscow’s attempt to exert pressure on Chechnya’s ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. Belkovsky conjectured that the attacks may have been a warning to President Dmitry Medvedev and his new envoy in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, “not to change the system of relations that formed in previous years between Moscow and Chechnya” (, April 6). It is worth noting that Khloponin visited Chechnya on April 8, almost two-and-a-half months after his appointment. The delay may have been a signal to Kadyrov that Moscow is not happy with his behavior. Also, on the day of Khloponin’s visit, it became known that one of Kadyrov’s aides, Shaa Turlaev, was wanted for possible involvement in an attempt on the life of one of the Yamadaev brothers, who were Kadyrov’s rivals (, April 8). The timing leaves little doubt that some people in Moscow want to restrain Kadyrov.

The history of the Moscow metro explosions is spectacular because out of six previous attacks between 1996 and 2004, only the last two attacks are considered to have been solved. Of those attacks, only in one case –the attack at the metro station entrance in 2004– the supposed suicide bomber may have been disturbed and had to detonate (, March 29). This means that suicide bombings are an effective tactic with nearly 100 percent efficiency. If almost all insurgent attacks in Moscow are so successfully carried out, why has the insurgency not carried out more of them? The sporadic character of this type of attack might indicate that they take place in Moscow only if one or another of the political forces in Russia really needs them. In this case, the Russian security services may have felt that the new configuration of power in the North Caucasus could threaten their interests.

However, if the security services played no part in the attacks, it will still expose them as inefficient. Indeed, the frequency of counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus supposedly should have ensured that the insurgency networks were disrupted and prevented from launching attacks in distant places like Moscow. It appears that they were not disrupted, which indicates the poor quality of the Russian security agencies on-the-ground intelligence. This, in turn, signifies major problems within the security services and more generally with the overall relationship between Moscow and the discontented peoples of the North Caucasus.