It seems there is no end to the controversy surrounding the upcoming Olympics in Sochi as another terrorist attack is carried out in Russia today. The bombing, the second one in the last 24 hours, is thought to have been led by insurgent Doku Umarov and raises worries about the safety of the upcoming games. This article from The New York Times provides the details.
This article was originally published on The New York Times by correspondent Steven Lee Myers.
MOSCOW — Twin terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd within 24 hours injected new urgency on Monday into Russia’s long, ruthless effort to contain a diffuse Islamic insurgency on its southern border, one nominally led by a veteran, battle-scarred Chechen often called Russia’s Osama bin Laden.
The cause and influence of the insurgent, Doku Umarov, seemed increasingly marginal until he surfaced in a video in July, ordering his followers to do whatever was possible to attack Russia as it prepared to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, Mr. Umarov’s threats, largely ignored at the time, suddenly seemed ominous, chillingly citing Russia’s transportation networks as potential targets.
On Monday morning, a suicide bomber gutted an electric trolley bus in Volgograd, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more. The bomb exploded during the morning rush hour on a street only a little more than a mile and half from the city’s main railroad station, where a similar attack killed at least 17 on Sunday.
The attacks, coming only six weeks before the opening of the Olympics only 400 miles away, sowed panic across the country. They prompted false reports of other bombings in Volgograd and the brief evacuation of Red Square here in Moscow after a woman left a package or bag near St. Basil’s Cathedral.
The attacks called into question Russia’s preparedness for an international sporting event that Mr. Putin and others intend to be a showcase of the country’s revival since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Putin, who has made no public remarks since the first attack, ordered the tightening of security across the country after holding a series of meetings with government and security officials, according to the Kremlin. He dispatched the director of the Federal Security Service, Aleksandr V. Bortnikov, to Volgograd to oversee the investigation and enhanced security measures.
“I think we will be able to solve these crimes, particularly because we have some clues,” Mr. Bortnikov said after arriving there, without elaborating on the trail of evidence investigators were pursuing. He said that additional security had been deployed at public places, including the city’s transportation and energy facilities. At the same time, security officials in the city launched a security sweep that detained at least 12 people.
Vladimir I. Markin, a spokesman for the main national criminal investigation agency in Russia, the Investigative Committee, said a man carried out the second attack, detonating a bomb with more than eight pounds of explosives on Trolley Bus No. 15, which witnesses said was full of morning commuters. The force of the blast tore the bus open, hurling bodies into the street and breaking windows in nearby five-story apartment buildings.
In a statement, Mr. Markin said the bombs used in both attacks were similar, packed with shrapnel to make them more lethal. He cited that as evidence that the two attacks were connected. “It’s possible they were prepared in one place,” he said of the bombs.
Mr. Umarov has previously claimed responsibility for some of the most devastating suicide attacks in recent years, including ones that struck the Moscow subway system in 2010 and the city’s Domodedovo Airport in 2011. Neither he nor his organization have claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings, and the police have yet to name any suspects.
A mysterious, almost mythical figure, scarred by battle, Mr. Umarov fought in both wars in Chechnya that began nearly two decades ago and has since come to symbolize the radicalization of a movement that began as a struggle for independence. After the second war was lost, crushed by Mr. Putin’s defiant refusal to negotiate with fighters he dismissed as terrorists, Mr. Umarov, now 49, repurposed himself as a proponent of global jihad, declaring himself the tactical and inspirational leader of a Caucasus Emirate that few people in the region embrace.
Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Monday denouncing “provocative appeals” by terrorists like Mr. Umarov, while at the same time blaming unspecified politicians and political strategists around the world for “flirting” with them. In fact, Mr. Umarov and his group have been declared terrorists with links to Al Qaeda by the United Nations. Since 2011, the United States State Department has even offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his arrest, a bounty reserved for the world’s most-wanted criminals.
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, released a statement on Monday condemning the attacks but expressing confidence that Russia would adequately secure the Sochi Games. “I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of the athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games,” he said.
Aleksandr D. Zhukov, the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee and the first deputy speaker of Parliament, said that all necessary security measures had been taken to protect athletes and visitors in Sochi. “No additional security measures will be taken in Sochi in light of the terrorist attack,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Everything necessary has been done.”
His remarks did not address the threat outside of Sochi, however. With security already heavily tightened there, experts have warned that those who want to disrupt the Olympics might turn instead to “softer” targets elsewhere.
The bombings in Volgograd prompted political recriminations that, in Mr. Putin’s Russia, have generally been fairly muted except among his most ardent critics. Sergei M. Mironov, a member of Parliament who has been a close ally of Mr. Putin’s, called for the resignation of the governor of the Volgograd region, Sergei A. Borzhenov.
Sergei S. Mitrokhin, the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, called for an investigation into any security lapses that might have allowed the attacks to occur, and suggested that the security services spent more time harassing political opponents than fighting terrorists and other criminals.
For a time, Mr. Umarov’s group observed a sort of cease-fire that he attributed to the public protests that followed Mr. Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. With those protests having largely fizzled out, Mr. Umarov declared his new wave of terror.
Russia steeled itself for more attacks, while residents in Volgograd expressed fear of taking any form of public transportation. Mr. Markin of the Investigative Committee initially reported that the attack on the railroad station on Sunday had been carried out by a woman — and some news organizations published her name and gruesome photographs of her severed head — but on Monday officials suggested that both attacks had been carried out by men.
Monday’s attack was the third suicide bombing in Volgograd in recent months, in addition to at least two other attempted strikes, including a blast at the police station in August. In October, a woman identified as Naida Asiyalova detonated a vest of explosives aboard a bus in the city, killing herself and six others.
In that case, the authorities said she was linked by marriage to an explosives expert working with an Islamic group in Dagestan, a republic in southern Russia where the police have struggled to suppress Islamic extremism that, according to experts, is only loosely linked with Mr. Umarov’s organization. A month later, the authorities announced that they had killed her husband and four others in a raid.
Dmitry Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that Mr. Umarov’s leadership role has been easily overstated, underscoring the complexity of the extremist threat facing Russia.
“It’s more decentralized than a lot of people think,” he said. “It may be Umarov and his network, but it could also be people or who are or less active in various other groups. In the field of terrorists, we have a lot of franchises.”