Analysis: Chechen footprints on the Moscow underground

Russia is going to have to rethink its entire strategy on fighting terror.

March 31, 2010 01:06
4 minute read.
People walk across the Moskva River on Krymsky ( C

Moscow subway terror attack 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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“It’s not suicide, but noble death that pleases Allah and proves one’s loyalty to him. I mostly dream now to leave this world at my present level of iman [faith], for no one can assure me that tomorrow it will become stronger.”

These words belong to Said Buratsky, one of the most influential Islamic preachers and ideologists in Russia’s Northern Caucasus region, who was hunted by the Russian authorities and killed on March 4.

Monday’s double terror attack on the Moscow metro could have been a retaliation for his death, some Russian experts believe.

Buratsky, who traveled to Kuwait to receive an Islamic education, returned to Russia bursting with salafi (fundamentalist) ideology and argued that suicide bombings were not only a legitimate means of war, but also the most desired path of jihad one could choose.

Sources in the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) say they are positive that the double terror attack had roots in the North Caucasus and that the two female terrorists were suicide bombers.

Just a few weeks ago, Docu Umarov, the self-proclaimed president of “The Emirate of the Caucasus” threatened that “the war will come to Russian homes soon.”

Four days prior to the terror attack, another important terrorist, Anzor Astemirov – a Cabardine prince who took credit for proclaiming the Caucasus Emirate – was shot.

This sequence of events should give Russian authorities enough reason for concern.

But apparently this attack has caught the Kremlin completely off-guard. The coverage of the event on official TV channels was slow and hesitant, the information dry and laconic and available only hours after the explosions, while the media kept broadcasting long-winded speeches of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on loop.

“They should look into the immediate circle of [Buratsky’s] relatives,” says Nicolay Kovalev, the former director of the FSB. “It’s crystal clear that this is their vengeance for the death of their leader.”

The return of Chechen terror inside the beating heart of Moscow, its glamorous underground, was an unpleasant and painful surprise, coming just five weeks before the 65th Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9.

“Sometimes you cannot stop the suicide bombers,” said Medvedev, addressing the nation as the bodies of the victims were still lying on the marble floors of the Park Kultury and Lubyanka metro stations.

Lubyanka, incidentally or not, is located just in front of FSB headquarters in Moscow.

There hasn’t been an attack on Moscow’s underground for six years, not since the powerful explosion in Rijskaya station took the lives of 10 Russians.

However, in the periphery – namely in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – terror has been striking regularly. Since the beginning of 2009, 15 suicide bombers have carried out terror attacks in different regions of the Northern Caucasus.

Yet it somehow seemed to many that the capital was untouchable, safe. No security checks were introduced in the Moscow metro, no metal detectors were installed in the malls. Chechnya felt far and irrelevant – all the more so given the “great victory” in the second Chechnya conflict in 2008, when Grozni, the embattled Chechen capital, was bombed and shelled, and hundreds of Chechen fighters were killed. Others, such as the current president of the republic, Ramazan Kadyrov, switched sides and joined the Russian forces.

Nevertheless, the remaining resistance took an oath to continue its jihad against “infidel” Russians down to the last drop of blood, and the confrontation went on. The attempts to carry out attacks didn’t stop for a minute, and the next big blast in the capital was just a matter of time.

According to Russian media reports, just last year Chechen terrorists reestablished a “special commando unit,” called Riyadus Salahiin, capable of performing complicated operations such as the double explosion in Moscow’s metro. Yet in April 2009, the anti-terrorist status in Chechnya was canceled, and Moscow loyalist Kadyrov reported rapid improvement in the security sphere.

Now some Russian Web sites are reporting that Buratsky personally trained as many as 30 female suicide bombers, a phenomenon introduced by Chechen Islamists.

Rumor or not, the attacks that took the lives of 39 innocent civilians are solid proof of the activation of radical organizations in the Northern Caucasus, and also a failure of Russian politics in this ever-problematic region.

Though Kadyrov achieved some success as he waged a relentless attack on local Islamists, they soon found refuge in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Soon after the blasts, both president Medvedev and Putin announced that “the organizers of the attacks will be hunted down and destroyed,” a promise that will certainly not untie the deadly Caucasus knot.

Today Russia is again facing the invisible threat that comes from the radical Northern Caucasus region, and it might have to double-check its strategies there – as well as its whole approach to its war on terror and the daily routine in its capital, which has once again become a battlefield for fundamentalist Islamic insurgents.

Moscow will have to act quickly and decisively against the instigators of terror, while trying to avoid further radicalization of the local Muslim population.   

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