Monday's attacks on Moscow's subways provide an odious reminder of the Russian empire's post-Cold War instability and the Russian government's severe internal challenges.
As this column goes to press, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attacks that left 39 dead and scores wounded, though Russian commentators and international analysts suspect Islamist-inspired separatists in the northern Caucasus region planned and executed the terror strikes.
Russian security forces are fighting guerrilla and terrorist cells based in troubled Caucasus political fragments like Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. Islamist separatist groups from these areas have used "the woman-delivered weapon" in previous attacks on Russian targets, and surveillance imagery, survivor testimony and forensic evidence confirm female suicide bombers conducted the subway attacks.
Last month, Doku Umarov, a senior Chechen separatist leader, promised to wage war in Russia's cities. His threat, as provided by Russian media, is chilling -- and charged with a political message: "Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to their cities."
Umarov refers to himself as the emir of a future Islamist "Caucasus Emirate" ruled by sharia law (with him as the chief interpreter, of course). His rhetoric and self-proclaimed title suggestively connect to Osama bin Laden's goal of establishing a "global caliphate" after infidel powers are defeated.
Umarov's recent threat is an old threat revived, and Russian security officials fear the subway bombings could signal a new wave of terror attacks targeting major Russian cities. In September 1999, Moscow suffered a series of bomb attacks on residential buildings. In February 2004, terrorists bombed a Moscow subway and murdered 40 people. Other attacks followed, with the Beslan school massacre (September 2004) the most tragic. Islamist separatists proclaimed they were "waging war" in Russia's heartland and hinterland.
In November 2009, operatives connected to Umarov blew up a train on the Moscow-St. Petersburg route. Killing Russians may have been the immediate goal, but that attack demonstrated the separatists also pursue economic and military objectives. The attack sent the message that Russia's extended transportation networks remain vulnerable.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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