Up until the moment of writing this, Russian intelligence and security officials are not certain that the photo of a decapitated head they released belonged to the suicide bomber who blew himself up Monday, Jan. 25 at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport killing 35 people and injuring 180.
Moscow has no leads to the hands behind the airport attack. No terrorist organization, domestic or foreign, has claimed responsibility. While trying to defend themselves against recriminations from President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about lax airport security, senior officers of the FBS, Russia's security service, admitted they were caught napping.
They had admittedly received an advance tip-off about a terrorist cell on is way from the North Caucasus to Moscow to attack an airport. However, up until now, such attacks were carried out by women suicide bombers like the two who blew themselves up in the Moscow Metro in March 2010. But this time, the planners reversed the roles within the cell to throw security watchers off the scent: The female cell member or members acted as accomplices and porters for bringing the explosives to the bomber, while a male or males filled the role of suicide bomber.
The FBS explained that the officers they posted at the airports to watch out for the cell had been looking for a female suicide bomber – not a man. And that is why they were caught off guard.
Putin and Medvedev faulted
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Moscow sources say that this attack gave an uninterested Western world a fleeting reminder of one of the most active warfronts against Islamist terrorism – North Caucasus with its seven semi-autonomous provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the Republic of Adygea. Fought day by day, this exceptionally brutal conflict covers more territory than the counter-terror wars waged in Pakistan and Yemen.
For the Russians, who are fed a daily diet on events on those fronts, those responsible for preventing the Domodedovo attack were not just the security agencies but first and foremost their president and prime minister. The two leaders are seen to have fallen down on their top-priority function of keeping Islamic terrorists bottled up in their home terrain and at bay. Today, Moscow and other major Russian cities feel exposed as never before to suicide terror.
The counter-terror policies embarked on by Putin, known as Mr. Security, began falling apart last year. By forking out huge bribes to Muslim militia chiefs in the troublesome republics, he had hoped to buy their willingness to keep the areas under their control calm – the same policy which failed when the US tried it in the Sunni areas of Iraq in 2006-2008.
Equally unavailing was a massive mosque construction project, which saw the biggest and most elaborate Muslim house of prayer in Europe going up in the Chechen capital of Grozny, and which brought down on the Kremlin the ire of the Russian taxpayer.
Kremlin plans to pacify Islamic provinces run aground
The early days of 2010 saw some Russian security forces' successes with hits against some armed militia chiefs. But this did not last: As the year wore on, the radical groups of North Caucasus gained momentum and turned back to assassinating as collaborators moderate local leaders and senior officials working with Russian security. Suicide bombings recurred, along with the sabotage of railways, roadside bombs and rocket and mortar bombardments against security forces.
The Islamic separatist insurgency and its terrorist face were further fueled by the failure of Medvedev-Putin policies to boost the local economies. Unemployment in the North Caucasian region of some 10 million inhabitants is rife at 35 percent. President Medvedev made a show of addressing these problems by the administrative redistribution of these provinces and the transfer of administrators who had proven their efficacy in other Russian provinces.
This plan also foundered when the new administrators fell foul of local mores of which they were ignorant and their lack of experience in governing a population part of which is in armed insurrection against rule from Moscow.
Putin then tried his hand at creating jobs. He had teams draw up schemes which looked good on paper for encouraging internal migration. For instance, an estimated 40,000 chronically unemployed North Caucasians would be encouraged to resettle in other Russian regions, while ethnic Russians with high skills would migrate to the North Caucasus.
The prime minister did not have enough money to fund a massive population transfer and provide its economic infrastructure. Furthermore, not enough ethnic Russians were willing to move to the troubled provinces.
Terror scare breeds violence
On December 11, 2010, some 5,000 Russian nationalists staged a riotous demonstration outside the Kremlin, shouting “Russia for Russians” and demanding North Caucasians be deported from Moscow. The crowd attacked people with Asian facial features, unopposed by the police which stood by for hours and watched.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Moscow predict further escalation of Russia's conflict with the North Caucasian provinces after the failure of the Kremlin's security and economic measures to pacify them.
The outrage at Domodedovo Airport this week may be only the first of the next wave terrorist attacks awaiting Russia, spreading more fear in its cities and outrage against the government in Moscow.