Who Bombed the Nevsky Express?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 33

A person claiming to belong to the Chechen extremist group Riyadus-Salikhin (Gardens of the Righteous) called the North Caucasus Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to claim responsibility for the bomb explosion that derailed the Nevsky Express passenger train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the evening of August 13, RFE/RL reported on August 15. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the bombing, which derailed the train near the city of Novgorod, about 500 kilometers north of Moscow, and injured dozens of people, was caused by a homemade bomb equal to two kilograms of TNT.

RFE/RL reported that the man who had phoned in the claim of responsibility identified himself as a Riyadus-Salikhin deputy commander and said the bombing was in retaliation for Russia’s role in Chechnya. Kommersant on August 16 quoted the head of RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service, Aslan Ayubov, as saying that he had received the call on his mobile phone by a person claiming to represent the deputy commander of Riyadus-Salikhin, Said-Emin Dadaev. According to Ayubov, the unidentified caller started out speaking in Chechen, but subsequently switched to Russia, saying he wanted to be completely sure that he was understood. Ayubov said the caller stated that the train was bombed in order to take revenge “for the suffering of the Chechen people,” but then hung up when Ayubov asked him for details about the bombing. Ayubov said he tried to call him back using the caller’s number as it had appeared on his phone, but that he received a message from the operator saying that the number was “out of range.” Ayubov told Kommersant that he was not convinced the person who called him was who he said he was. “I have heard that there is a [rebel] field commander by the name of Dadaev – according to my information, he commands the militants of the South-West front – but it’s the first time I’ve heard of him commanding the Riyadus-Salikhin battalion,” Ayubov said.

This past March, Chechen rebel leader Dokka Umarov issued decrees that, among other things, named several rebel commanders as ministers of the separatist underground government. The separatist Kavkaz-Center website at the time reported that under the decrees, Said-Emin Dadaev, who was identified as commanding rebel groups in the Itum-Kale, Shatoi and Sharoi districts, was appointed the separatist government’s “financial minister” (Chechnya Weekly, April 12).

Following the bombing of the Nevsky Express train, various Russian officials and politicians connected the incident to developments in the North Caucasus. On August 14, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, cited the train bombing and the ongoing situation in the Northern Caucasus, “where in the last two months armed attacks have increased against government officials, law enforcement officers and judges,” as evidence that the threat of terrorism has not been eliminated (Eurasia Daily Monitor, August 15). Nikolai Kovalev, the former FSB chief who is now chairman of the State Duma’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said the train bombing may have been an attempt to divert the government’s attention away from the situation in Ingushetia, where an additional 2,500 Interior Ministry troops were deployed because of the deteriorating security situation. “It may be an attempt to divert attention to another purely geographically place,” RIA Novosti on August 14 quoted Kovalev as saying. “Terrorists often use such methods.”

Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee and the pro-Kremlin “A Just Russia” party, said the train bombing may have been the work of “a terrorist chain whose roots are possibly in the Caucasus,” RIA Novosti reported. “A large contingent of federal forces has been sent to Ingushetia and a special operation is being prepared,” Gudkov said. “It is possible that there is a connection here.” Viktor Plyukhin, deputy head of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a member of the Communist Party, predicted that the “the roots of this crime, if they are discovered, will be in the North Caucasus.”

On the other hand, Kavkazky Uzel on August 16 quoted Ruslan Badalov, head of the Ingushetia-based Chechen National Salvation Committee, as saying that he did not think the bombing of the Nevsky Express was connected to the special operation taking place in Ingushetia.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, reacted to the alleged Riyadus-Salikhin claim of responsibility for the Nevsky Express bombing by telling reporters at the airport in the town of Mineralniye Vody on August 15 that there are no organized terrorist groups capable of committing large-scale terrorist acts in the republic or beyond its boundaries.

“This was the beloved tactic of the Raduevs, Basaevs, Udugovs and others – to claim responsibility for everything that happens in the world,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “This tactic is known to all and contains nothing new. This is how the Basaevs, Udugovs and Raduevs tried to account for the huge funds they received.” He added that “although these leaders of terrorist organizations have been long destroyed, there are still bandits who, by presenting themselves as some Riyad Al-Salihin or the army of Dzhokhar Dudaev or something similar, are trying to distract the attention of the investigation into the executors of the terrorist acts. In Chechnya, like in any part of the country or in any state of the world, it is possible that there are criminals, but there is no terrorist underground and there are certainly no organizations behind the impressive names, such as Riyad Al-Salihin and the like. The statements claiming that some forces allegedly based in Chechnya have been involved in high-profile terrorist acts could also be disseminated by those who are seriously concerned about the positive processes that are taking place in the republic. We have broken the necks of all known terrorist organizations; we destroyed them and left them without a leadership. However, some remnants, perhaps, who escaped Chechnya long ago, want to create the appearance of a force and organization.”

According to Interfax, Kadyrov stressed that the fight against terrorism requires coordinated actions from all of the country’s law enforcement bodies. “I have announced many times over the past few years that the fight against this evil must take place on a daily basis,” he said. “And, thank God, this is now being done in the North Caucasus as a whole. I am convinced that in a very near future the remnants of these renegades will find their place deep below the ground.”

The Moscow Times, citing Interfax, reported on August 16 that investigators are currently leaning toward the version that Russian ultranationalists bombed the train. “Detectives and investigators are working on several angles,” a source close to the investigation told Interfax. “The top lead, however, is that representatives of extremist nationalist organizations were involved in this terrorist act.” The source said it was also possible that Islamist militants from the North Caucasus organized the attack. According to the source, a composite sketch drawn of a potential suspect depicts a man with distinct Slavic features. The Moscow Times quoted Alexander Belov, the head of the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, as saying that federal prosecutors had interrogated him and members of the group’s branch in the Novgorod region in connection with the bombing.

The English-language newspaper also noted that the design of the bomb used on the Nevsky Express and the tactics used “closely resembled two earlier attacks blamed on ultranationalists.” Two ultranationalists were convicted in April of bombing a Grozny-Moscow train in 2005 and a group of ultranationalists is now on trial for an attempt to kill Unified Energy System chief Anatoly Chubais with a roadside bomb in 2005. Interfax, citing sources close to the investigation, reported on August 14 that the remains of the explosive device found at the scene of the train blast were similar to those found in the two earlier bombings.

The August 13 bombing of the Nevsky Express train took place just a day after a video appeared on several Russian ultranationalist websites showing two bound and gagged captives, identified on the video as Dagestani and Tajik “colonists,” in a wooded area in front of a Nazi flag. The video then shows the two captives being executed, with at least one of them being beheaded. The video was made by the Rus National-Socialist Party. After the video was posted, the previously unknown ultranationalist party posted a statement that included its platform.

Some observers have suggested that both the bombing of the Nevsky Express and the Nazi execution video may have been provocations connected to the impending end of President Vladimir Putin’s second and last constitutionally-mandated term in office and the issue of who will succeed him. The Moscow Times on August 15 quoted Alexander Khramchikhin, a security analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, as saying that allies of Putin are seeking a third term for him by raising the specter of a terrorist threat that could have been behind the bombing of the Nevsky Express. As the English-language newspaper recalled: “In August 1999, an Islamist incursion from Chechnya into Dagestan followed by a series of apartment bombings helped to consolidate power in the hands of Putin, the then little-known prime minister, who just months later was elected president with a promise to curb terrorism and separatism. Speculation started swirling that the special services were behind the bombings when residents spotted Federal Security Service officers planting explosives in an apartment building in Ryazan in September 1999. The FSB said later that it was a training drill.”

Likewise, the commentator Yulia Latynina wrote on the Yezhednevny zhurnal website (Ej.ru) on August 15: “The siloviki who are in charge of the country are deathly afraid that Putin will step down and leave them with a successor who is not their associate … They want Putin to stay. And he can stay only if something monstrous takes place. For example, a large-scale terrorist act carried out by Nazis. One that forces Putin to exclaim: ‘I must save Russia from the brown plague!’”

Another commentator, Anatoly Baranov, chief editor of the Forum.msk website (Forum.msk.ru), also recalled the events of 1999: “I have not completely lost my memory, and I remember the events of eight years ago quite well,” he recalled in comments posted by the website on August 15. “It was precisely then, on the eve of the ‘election war’ in Chechnya, that footage showing terrifying executions of Russians by terrorists somewhere in the Caucasus appeared in the media. By the way, one of those who appeared in the footage with a severed head was later discovered to be alive and well. But he served his purpose in that ‘Hollywood’ [clip]: the war in Chechnya was justified and approved by practically all of Russian society, which was confirmed by the vote for the new President Putin. There was also the blowing up of the apartment buildings, reports about numerous slaves [Russians reportedly held as slaves in Chechnya] and so on.” The latest violent acts, including the bombing of the Nevsky Express and the Nazi execution video, may have been aimed at convincing the Russian public of the existence of an “extremist underground,” Baranov wrote.

The separatist Kavkaz-Center website, for its part, headlined an August 14 analysis of the putative execution video and the statement by the Rus National-Socialist Party subsequently posted on ultranationalist websites: “A statement of the National-Socialist Party of Russia or the FSB?” Many representatives of Russia’s far right, Kavkaz-Center wrote, are talking about Kremlin “provocations” through which the FSB is preparing for “mass repressions against Russian national-socialists.” Kavkaz-Center added that it did not know whether this is in fact the case.

Russian prosecutors on August 15 detained a university student in Maikop, the capital of Adygeya, charging him with inciting racial hatred by circulating the execution video, Reuters reported. “We have detained a young person suspected of uploading this video to the Internet,” the news agency quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying. “This man has declared his devotion to national socialist ideas. According to preliminary information, he has been distributing this video over the Internet but he is not the author of it …Experts are still working to establish the authenticity of the video.”

Meanwhile, Newsru.com reported on August 16 that the Moscow police have been placed on a heightened state of alert in connection with the bombing of the Nevsky Express.