Volgograd Suicide Bombing: Were the Sochi Olympics the Real Target?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 191

(Source: RIA Novosti)

Suicide bomber attacks in the North Caucasus rarely make headlines in the rest of the Russian Federation. Yet, any violent attack in Russia outside the North Caucasus, in ethnic Russian regions, is alarming to Russians, since they realize it could have affected them personally.

The latest attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber on a passenger bus in the city of Volgograd, located 852 kilometers north of Makhachkala, Dagestan, on October 21. The bus picked up students at the “University” bus stop, and the explosion took place two minutes later, while the bus was traveling along a busy road. Six people were killed and 32 injured (www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1144564&tid=104994). In accordance with the Russian routine, police found the passport of the alleged bomber, Naida Asiyalova, which had miraculously survived the attack (https://eyra-0501.livejournal.com/2999075.html). According to the Russian security services, the bomber’s husband is Dmitry Sokolov, a 22-year-old Muscovite who was born in the Moscow Oblast city of Dolgoprudny and is the son of a lieutenant colonel. In 2011, Sokolov converted to Islam in Moscow, and then left home the following year (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J3cOBcNiho&feature=youtu.be&t=18m42s) and joined the militants in Dagestan. Arsanali Kambulatov, the leader of the Makhachkala sector of the Dagestani jamaat, regarded Sokolov as an experienced bomber (https://lifenews.ru/#!news/121499). According to the law enforcement agencies, Sokolov prepared Asiyalova for the terrorist attack. Sokolov had also reportedly prepared another suicide bomber, Madina Alieva, who carried out a terrorist attack in Makhachkala on May 25. In Dagestan, Sokolov assumed the name of Abdul Jabar (https://lenta.ru/news/2013/10/22/details/).

According to the mother of this latest alleged suicide bomber, Naida was one of her three daughters. She came from the mountainous Dagestani village of Gunib, which has been known for providing substantial support to the militants (https://top.rbc.ru/incidents/22/10/2013/884104.shtml). In a move quite unusual for highlanders, she left her parents’ home before getting married and went to Makhachkala. According to her mother, Naida Asiyalova married a Turkish man, but the marriage did not last. She then married Sokolov, after which she started to wear the hijab and became immersed in Islam.

After the start of the second Russian-Chechen war in 1999, 78 suicide terrorist attacks were carried out on Russian territory by 121 suicide bombers, 52 of whom were females. In all, 1,181 people were killed and more than 3,200 people injured in those attacks (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/224438/).

It should be noted that a female, Khava Baraeva, was the first person to carry out a suicide attack in Russia. On June 6, 2000, she drove a truck loaded with explosives into the commandant’s office in Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya. Chechnya has been the site of the largest number of suicide bombing attacks, while Dagestan is in second place (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/179683/?print=true). These types of attacks became the hallmark of the second Russian-Chechen war, and journalists nicknamed the female suicide bombers “black widows,” which is not entirely accurate. In the case of Naida Asiyalova, for example, it does not apply since she was not a widow or an ex-wife, but rather a spouse (www.inopressa.ru/article/22Oct2013/inotheme/terror_22.html). By portraying all female suicide bombers as women who avenged the deaths of their husbands, journalists oversimplified this phenomenon. It is much more complex than mere vengeance for humiliation and abuse. Women do not commit these acts under the influence of drugs or their husbands. Suicide bombers, both males and females, believe in the righteousness of the act of sacrifice. They internalize shahadism as the highest expression of belief in God, and thus consciously commit murder, fully aware of the fact that they are killing innocent people. In their opinion, the victims are a kind of sacrifice for the higher mission of attaining the Muslim community’s salvation.

Dagestani President Ramazan Abdulatipov conveyed his condolences to the victims in the Volgograd blast and insisted that criminals have no ethnicity (www.riadagestan.ru/news/president/zayavlenie_press_sluzhby_prezidenta_i_pravitelstva_respubliki_dagestan_v_svyazi_s_teraktom_v_volgogradskoy_oblasti/). This was not much help to Muslims living in Volgograd: on October 22, unidentified people tried to set fire to a mosque located near the site of the attack (https://lenta.ru/news/2013/10/22/mosque/). The targeted mosque is not a typical mosque, but rather a private home belonging to the head of a regional Islamic organization, Makhallya-1350, which uses his house as a prayer house for the city’s Muslims. Attacks on Caucasians in this part of Russia are bound to follow, and it will be surprising if the North Caucasians who live in Volgograd leave the city temporarily until the passions triggered by the suicide bombing cool down.

Some observers in Russia said the Volgograd attack may have been connected to the Winter Olympics set to be held in Sochi in February 2014. Why Volgograd, which is far away from Sochi? It may be because of the difficulties in penetrating all the defenses set up by the Russian security services in the area surrounding the Olympiad site. Nevertheless, those who carried out the attack may have wanted to demonstrate that the situation in Russia is not quiet and that the threat of terrorist attacks exists (https://1news.az/interview/20131023014507113.html). But this is also an admission that the situation in the Sochi area is under the complete control of the Russian security services, so it could also be seen as an unintended positive advertisement for the Russian authorities.

In any case, the terrorist attack in Volgograd shows Russia’s main weakness—that the authorities cannot control all of its territory. No guarantees exist that such an attack will not take place in other parts of Russia, and big improvements in the security situation around the country are unlikely by the time the Sochi Olympics get under way. Thus, it is by no means guaranteed that the 2014 Winter Olympics will be hassle-free.