Russia blames Chechnya’s ‘Black Widows’ for suicide bombings
Obama condemns Moscow blasts as ‘outrageous’
Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up on packed metro trains in Moscow on Monday, killing at least 38 people near the ex-KGB headquarters and Gorky Park, in attacks blamed on Islamists.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed those behind the rush-hour attacks would be “destroyed”, as authorities pointed the finger at militants from the Northern Caucasus for the deadliest attack in Moscow for half a decade.
US President Barack Obama condemned the deadly double suicide attacks on Moscow’s metro Monday as “outrageous acts”.
“The American people stand united with the people of Russia in opposition to violent extremism and heinous terrorist attacks that demonstrate such disregard for human life, and we condemn these outrageous acts,” Obama said in a statement.
He also expressed his “deepest condolences” to the people of Russia after what he said was a “terrible loss of life and injuries.”
“If Russia’s security services are correct in blaming two Chechen ‘black widows,’ or female suicide bombers, for attacks that killed almost 40 people on Moscow’s crowded metro Monday morning it represents the return of a nightmare that Kremlin thought it had ended years ago,” Fred Weir reports for the Christian Science Monitor.
The first explosion shortly before 8:00 am (0400 GMT) ripped through a train that had stopped in the Lubyanka station just below the headquarters of Russia’s FSB security service, the former KGB. Related article: Terrorists will be destroyed, says Putin
About half an hour later, a second explosion went off in a carriage of a train on the platform at the Park Kultury metro station, named after the city’s iconic Gorky Park.
Rescuers grimly hauled out body bags from the ornate stations in the depths of one of the world’s biggest underground systems.
Dazed passengers could be seen holding their heads in despair and corpses strewn on the ground as dust and smoke swirled through the tunnel.
The boyfriend of one of those injured vowed vengeance against Muslims and flaunted blood on his hands he said was from punching a Tajik in the face.
“I am going kill one of them, a Tajik, an Azerbaijani, it does not matter, they are all the same. War is going to begin,” he told journalists at Lubyanka Square, before being taken away by police.
Security services kept a tight cordon around the Lubyanka metro station, as crowds of people sought to call loved ones on an overloaded mobile phone network.
Officials said the attacks were carried out by female suicide bombers wearing belts packed with explosives, in a return of the so-called “Black Widows” who spread fear across Moscow a decade ago with a string of attacks.
“According to preliminary information, both blasts have been executed by female suicide bombers,” an FSB spokesman told AFP.
Russian news agencies said body parts suspected to come from the two women had been found at the two stations and had been sent for laboratory analysis.
Alexandra Antonova, an editor for the RIA-Novosti news agency, said she was on a train which had just pulled out of Lubyanka when the blast went off.
“The loud boom stuffed up my ears. But the train didn’t stop. Nobody had time to understand what had happened,” Antonova said.
The emergency situations ministry said the toll had reached 38, not including the bombers. Another 64 people were wounded.
Around two-thirds of the dead were killed in the Lubyanka blast although figures for the breakdown of the toll were not available.
US President Barack Obama, who is seeking to improve ties with Russia, condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks that demonstrate such disregard for human life”.
Moscow’s chief prosecutor Yuri Syomin told reporters that the force of the blasts had an equivalent of about three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of TNT explosives each.
At an emergency meeting convened by President Dmitry Medvedev, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov said the blasts appeared linked to Northern Caucasus militants and the suspected bombers also had connections with the regions.
Putin — who cut short a visit to Siberia to return to Moscow — warned that “law enforcement agencies will do everything to find and punish the criminals… The terrorists will be destroyed.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the group of leading Chechen militant Doku Umarov repeatedly warned in recent months it was planning to strike the capital.
Lubyanka Square is home to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet KGB secret police and still housed in the notorious building where dissidents were interrogated and shot in the Soviet purges.
The Moscow metro system continued working despite the disaster, with only one line temporarily shut down and by the end of the day Lubyanka station had reopened to passengers with only minimal damage to its marble walls.
The explosions were the deadliest suicide attacks in Moscow since 2004 when the bombing of a metro train killed 41.
Then, Russia had been living in fear of attacks after the deadly storming of a Moscow theatre by Chechen militants in 2002.
Chechnya itself has seen a rise in violence over the last months as pro-Kremlin local authorities seek to clamp down on an Islamist uprising.
Russia last year abolished an “anti-terror” operation in Chechnya but violence in the nearby majority-Muslim regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan had already raised fears unrest could spread to Moscow.
The struggle can be traced back to the Stalin era when hundreds of thousands of Chechens were forcibly displaced to Siberia, according to Bob Ayers, a retired international security analyst.
“When they returned they wanted to reestablish their presence in Chechnya and they saw it as their homeland,” said Ayers.
The use of women as suicide bombers or “Black Widows,” is one way in which the struggle in Chechnya is different from al Qaeda and more analogous to the military campaign waged by the IRA in Northern Ireland, says Ayers.
“This war is politically motivated, it is not about a religious ideology as in the case of al Qaeda, so everyone participates and it is ultimately irrelevant if you are a man or a woman,” said Ayers.
The CS Monitor adds more background on the ‘Black Widows’:
Russian security forces call them “black widows,” both for their deadly intentions and the head-to-toe black mourning clothes that are their signature dress. A large contingent of female shakhidy were among the 50 Chechen rebels who seized a central Moscow theater in 2002, and subsequently died along with 120 hostages when Russian security forces stormed the building using a poisonous knock-out gas.
Two black widows blew themselves up at a Moscow rock concert the next summer, killing 14 people.
Another pair have been blamed for destroying two Russian airliners in 2004, just days before a large group of militants — including several black widows — seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, with 1,200 hostages. More than 300 people, half of them children, died in the bloodbath that ensued when Russian forces stormed the school.
(with AFP reports)