Austin Bay

The Jan. 24 terrorist attack on Moscow's Domodedovo Airport left some three dozen dead and nearly 200 wounded. Russian investigators have yet to identify the perpetrators, but the attack is all too similar to prior strikes by Islamist militant organizations based in Russia's troubled Caucasus region.

The Russians have good reasons to suspect a Chechen militant Islamist group commanded by Doku Umarov is involved. Umarov refers to himself as the emir of an Islamic republic in the Caucasus. His organization has a record of attacking transportation hubs and routes in and around Moscow that are ripe with political symbolism. He also has a penchant for recruiting and using female suicide bombers.

Russian police linked Umarov's group to a November 2009 attack on the luxury Nevsky Express train, which connects Moscow and St. Petersburg. The passengers on board included Russian nouveau riche and government officials. That attack's message: Elites can't hide, even in the Russian heartland.

Umarov likely sponsored the two March 2010 suicide terror bombings in Moscow's subway system. Both of the suicide terrorists in those attacks were women from the Caucasus region of Dagestan. One bomb exploded in the Lubyanka station, located near Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters. The FSB is the heir to the Soviet Union's notorious KGB.

The Lubyanka attack was a direct challenge to the FSB, which plays the key role in combating the various Caucasian insurgencies. For Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it also had a personal dimension. Putin came from the ranks of the KGB and made his reputation for steely decisiveness battling Chechen rebels in 1999.

The other subway bomb detonated at a stop near Gorky Park. Muscovites got the message: There are no safe zones. We will kill you on a family outing.

This week's bomb targeted Domodedovo's international arrival gate. It sends several messages. Obviously, Caucasian Islamic and separatist militants are quite willing to kill international visitors, including those from nations who might be sympathetic to their cause. The bottom line communication, however, is one of Russian weakness.

The Russian city of Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympic games. Sochi is located in southern Russia, on the Black Sea's Caucasus shore. The Olympic alpine skiing events will be held in Krasnaya Polyana, a resort town in the western Caucasus Mountains. If Moscow can be hit, Sochi is vulnerable -- and the ski slopes are a war zone.

Austin Bay

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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