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Bomb Attacks in Russia Echo Threats by Chechen Insurgent



A bomb on a bus in Volgograd, Russia, on Monday killed at least 15 people. It was the second fatal blast in the city in two days.


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.

Doku Umarov

The attacks, coming only six weeks before the opening of the Olympics just 400 miles away, sowed widespread fear across the country. On Monday morning, a suicide bomber gutted a crowded electric trolley bus in Volgograd a little more than a mile and a half from the city’s main railroad station, where a similar attack took place on Sunday.

The death toll in the two attacks continued to rise on Tuesday as victims died while being treated in hospitals. A Health Ministry spokesman told Interfax that 18 people had now died as a result of the bombing at the train station, while 16 died in the trolley bus attack.

The investigation into the bombings is just getting underway, but the attention of the Russian security services is already focused on the republic of Dagestan, which has become the hub of Muslim separatist violence in recent years, and on connections to the insurgent leader,Doku Umarov. He is a mysterious, almost mythical figure who fought in both Chechnya wars, which began nearly two decades ago and have come to symbolize the radicalization of a movement that began as a struggle for independence.

Mr. Umarov’s influence had seemed to be waning in recent years, 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.

Now, experts say, the question is whether the suicide bombings in Volgograd and one previous attack there are the first volleys in Mr. Umarov’s promised campaign to disrupt the Olympic Games and discredit the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.

“The big question is will there be this sort of wave,” said Gordon M. Hahn, a senior associate with the Center of Strategic and International Studies who has written extensively on Islamic terror groups in the Caucasus. “This is already a pretty high level — the fact that they pulled off three suicide bombings in Volgograd in two months. If their idea is to build up a crescendo, they have to take it easy because they’ll have to do something really big.”

The attacks 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. They also 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 Sunday’s 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 transportation and energy facilities in Volgograd, a city of about a million people formerly known as Stalingrad. 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 Monday’s attack, detonating a bomb with more than eight pounds of explosives on trolley bus No. 15, which witnesses said was full of morning commuters. 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 has claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombings.

Mr. Umarov was crushed after the second war in Chechnya by Mr. Putin’s defiant refusal to negotiate with fighters he dismissed as terrorists. In response, he 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. Then, in July, he issued his manifesto on the Sochi Games.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday denouncing “provocative appeals” by terrorists like Mr. Umarov, while blaming unspecified politicians and others around the world for “flirting” with them. Mr. Umarov and his group have been declared terrorists by the United Nations, and, since 2011, the State Department has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

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 to “softer” targets elsewhere.

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 the protests having largely fizzled out, Mr. Umarov declared his new wave of terror.

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, 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 could be overstated, underscoring the complexity of the extremist threat facing Russia.

“It’s more decentralized than a lot of people think; it may be Umarov and his network,” he said, or people active in other groups. “In the field of terrorists,” he added, “we have a lot of franchises.”

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