Russian Suicide Bus Bombing Sparks Terrorism Fears for Sochi Olympics

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Russian Emergencies Ministry / Reuters

Members of Russia's emergency services work near a damaged bus after a suicide bombing in Volgograd on Oct. 21, 2013

Naida Asiyalova, the suicide bomber who blew herself up on Monday on a crowded bus in the Russian city of Volgograd, killing six people and wounding dozens more, was born in the town of Buynaksk, a huddle of mosques and squat apartment blocks in the foothills of the Russian Caucasus. For at least a year, the town has been under a so-called KTO regime (the Russian initials for counterterrorism operation), which allows security forces to conduct random searches, impose curfews and detain any foreigners who do not carry a special visitor’s permit, as happened to me this spring. At the checkpoint leading into town, the troops who stopped me could not say exactly how long the counterterrorism operation had been going on. “A long time,” one of them said with a sigh. “Probably a couple of years. You should have known about it.” And when would it be over? “Not soon. Not with the Olympics coming up.”

The Olympic Games, which will be held about a day’s drive from Buynaksk in the Russian city of Sochi in February, were roughly nine months away at the time. But President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to stamp out the local Islamist insurgency had already been pushing ahead for at least that much time. Thousands of Interior Ministry troops had been sent to the region of Dagestan, where Buynaksk is one of the largest towns, to reinforce the local police against jihadi fighters, and KTO regimes were cropping up like brush fires in a heat wave. Some of them lasted only about a week, during which troops would seal off a town or village and bombard the hideouts of suspected insurgents until they were killed, captured or escaped. Others, like in Buynaksk, dragged on indefinitely, imposing on the local population a form of martial law, which in Russia usually amounts to police impunity.

(MORE: A Dead Militant in Dagestan)

Although Asiyalova’s motives remain unclear and the details of her biography sketchy, she seems to fit the profile of other Muslims from the Caucasus who have turned to terrorism as a form of revenge against Russia, taking out their anger on the nation they see as an occupying force. “The organizers of these terrorist attacks prey on people’s frustrations,” says Yulia Yuzik, a leading expert in Russia on female suicide bombers from the Caucasus. “They play on pride, on people’s desire to defend their religion, their nation and their dignity.”

The self-proclaimed leader of the insurgency in southern Russia is Doku Umarov, a warlord from the region of Chechnya, whose stated goal is to turn the Caucasus, including Sochi, into an Islamic caliphate governed by Shari‘a. This summer, he released a video message calling on his followers to use “maximum force” to disrupt the Sochi Olympics, which he called “Satanic games to be held on the bones of our ancestors.” Monday’s attack was the first suicide bombing to strike the Russian heartland since Umarov issued this directive. “My main worry is that it may be the first one in a series,” says Pavel Baev, an expert on the Caucasus at the Oslo-based Peace Research Institute. “Every rebel mastermind knows how vulnerable Putin’s pet Olympic project is.”

As the attack on Monday clearly showed, the militants who operate in Dagestan are perfectly capable of staging attacks far outside their home turf. According to Russian media reports, the bomber’s husband, a Russian convert to Islam named Dmitri Sokolov, was an active member of the insurgency in Dagestan and a self-trained explosives expert. Investigators claim he built the suicide vest for his wife and that the bombing was planned by a terrorist cell in Dagestan, one of dozens thought to be active in the region.

(MORE: In the Footsteps of the Boston Bombers)

Amid the crackdown leading up to the Olympics, there has been little sign that these groups have been weakened or even contained. Between the start of July and the end of September, 133 people were killed in the conflict between militants and government forces in the North Caucasus; the majority of them — 86 people — were killed in Dagestan, including 32 police offices, according to Kavkaz Uzel, an independent news services that keeps a tally of the violence based on media reports. That is up from a death toll of 118 across the North Caucasus in the previous three months.

Anne Speckhard, who surveyed the motives of suicide bombers for her recently published book, Talking to Terrorists, says the brutal raids against insurgents in the Caucasus may actually be swelling their numbers in the lead-up to the Olympics. For the militant leaders, “the most important thing is consolidating recruitment and membership. And they are very cynically willing to manipulate traumatic bereavement for those ends,” says Speckhard. So when a counterinsurgency strike levels an entire building and kills its inhabitants — as is not uncommon in Dagestan — the grieving relatives and friends of the deceased turn into potential recruits. “They are angry, they want revenge, and they can be very quickly activated in a new terrorist operation.”

(PHOTOS: Scenes of Life in Dagestan)

Breaking this cycle would require a level of finesse that seems to lie outside the skill set of Putin’s counterterrorism forces. Mia Bloom, a terrorism expert and professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, says fostering a dialogue within the communities, and even within the families, of devoted militants is the only effective way to bring them back into civilian life. “If you bring in an imam to explain why suicide attacks are forbidden under Islam, it can strike a chord,” she says. “They may start to listen.”

But last year, the security forces in Dagestan dismantled the only government program that sought to persuade militants to put down their arms in exchange for amnesties. Shamil Mutaev, a former prosecutor who helped lead that initiative, says it was closed down for being too soft. “There is the opinion that only force can work,” he told me earlier this year. “That opinion has won out.” The results can be found at the checkpoints and KTO regimes that scar the lush mountains of the Russian Caucasus. But as the soldiers manning them will often admit in private, they are not sure whether they’re doing more good than harm.

31 comments
DavidDaoud
DavidDaoud

How is it possible that you have written an entire article without once mentioning Saudi Arabia? 

Have you forgotten what Prince Bandar bin Sultan said to Vladamir Putin at the beginning of this month, during his visit? 

 He admitted that Saudi intelligence has complete control of terrorists in the Caucasus; they can turn them on and off. The lady came from Dagestan!

Do you remember the oil/gas deal that Bandar offered to Putin in return for abandoning Syria, which Putin rejected? Do you know that Bandar specifically mentioned that he could protect the Sochi Olympics from terrorist attack if Putin would cooperate? I see a connection to the bus bombing; do you?

SnafuBob
SnafuBob

Possible, but you can bet Putin would make sure to track the responsible groups down and eradicate the SOB's if that was the case. Besides, it would likely be a group from Chechnya, or former Soviet republic with a majority Muslim population. 

1GroovyCoder
1GroovyCoder

I am not as worried as many here are. The extremists should know that if as much as a bus bombing occurs at the olympics, Putin will burn Dagestan and Chechnya to the ground, and whoever else he thinks is guilty. 

mattd
mattd

I wish the West would stay out of Russian affairs and let them execute every muslim within their borders.  For centuries muslims and other asiatic nomads have been roosting in the Russians' nest. Russia for Russians! I dream of a day when Russia and the West are united against these animals. Unlikely, given that the West is being subverted by "progressives".

RickHatfield
RickHatfield

The only thing islamist terrorist hate more than Christians are homosexuals. If the homosexuals start picketing the events they will become major targets for the terrorists. They will burn a Christian church to the ground but they will stone to death anyone who is gay. Especially another muslim.

BoboVegas65
BoboVegas65

I usually enjoy watching the Olympics, but not this time from Russia, I have a bad feeling about it, as with the incident reported here, security issues, and Russia's anti-Gay policy, I will be sitting this one out, I know it is not that easy for players who have spent years training to sit it out, all I can say, I wish they could be moved . 

GaryDouglas
GaryDouglas

What with all that and the defiance that Russian security is likely to face from some of the gay rights protesters (rightfully so), I suspect that this is going to be a very tense time in Sochi.

JamesHarmon
JamesHarmon

crazy stuff going on in the world maybe ill buy a gun to protect myself 

Destroyer
Destroyer

The Olympics is just a game kids. You don't have to play if you really don't want to right?

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

And how do they know that the Olympics will be targeted? Fear mongering and excuse to x-ray people and keep us in fear. Obviously only the elite will be able to attend the games because they will pay for security - even though this is no way to live - and the commoners will have to watch it on TV. The world is fast becoming the very wealthy and the poor: corrupt to the core. The elite may have money but their souls and spirits are impoverished.

jimmyjimmyjimmy111
jimmyjimmyjimmy111

Of course, this has nothing to do with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia's threats to sabotage Sochi in retaliation for impeding an illegal U.S. attack on Syria. Also, note how the American media attributes terrorism in Russia to Russian repression, but does nothing of the same for terrorism against the  United States. Hubris at its finest.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

I wish Russia the very best of luck with the Sochi Winter Olympics, but given the visa hassles and the terrorist threat, I will watch whatever happens on tv. 

klsahfkl
klsahfkl

It seems that only criminals come out of Dagestan.  When I read a Russian paper in Moscow this past summer, the entire criminal section mentioned only people from Dagestan committing crimes there.  Of course, there are other people committing crimes in Moscow but Dagestan immigrants were involved in the hard core stuff.

zz1
zz1

Bandar BIn Sultan warned Putin that if he didn't support Saudi goals on Syria this would happen. 

rogerthat1945
rogerthat1945

@mattd `The West` is handing itself over to insurgent and their families and has been since the USA (Jewish-Lobby) ordered `Multi-culturalisim in Europe since the end of WW2.

Its sickening, and will not end up bloodless in the la-la-land the uber-liberal gay pukes dream of and persist in forcing down everyones throats.

Human Rights in Europe (specifically the UK) is not for heterosexuals, males or Christians, they only exist for anyone against the people who built the UK. Strange but true.

SnafuBob
SnafuBob

@mattd Yet the Russians have no problem selling arms to them the same as our government. Iraq, most hardware especially tanks was Soviet / Russian T-55's, 70's, and 80's. Not to mention the Scud was a Soviet / Russian design. The current Syrian regime is armed by the Russians. Not to mention the '67, and '73 wars Israel fought against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan; all supplied by you guessed it, the Soviets / Russians. It's all political in any case.

rogerthat1945
rogerthat1945

@RickHatfield But they do really like very little girls. They like them in unusual ways. All Islam seems to be about is creating a world where the older males can prey upon the bodies of young girls with no clue.

rogerthat1945
rogerthat1945

@BoboVegas65 Russia is not exactly `Anti-gay`, they are just not `Pro-gay`which is a very different thing.

 But f@ggots will never be satisfied, .and should find their own planet if they dont like the rules.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@ShawnArscott And was the security at the Salt Lake City games was just as unnecessary?  This is a sign of the times, and fearmongerers are from all around the world. 

JamesJohn1
JamesJohn1

@ShawnArscott 


Do u read the papers? They said they will do whatever it takes to target the Olympics. In fact, this is nothing new. It was done in Munich already. 

Rich are corrupt? Right, there are no poor people who are corrupt. Get real. U live in a fantasy world. Cone back down to reality.

rpearlston
rpearlston

@internetfavs Why just these ones.  Boycott the Olympics, period.

There is no longer any country on this planet that can afford to host an Olympic Games, whether they be winter or summer.  Yes, many countries (and too many of them are 3rd world) still insist on bidding for them, largely to make a (mis)statement about their economic state and their country's state) still insist on bidding for them, with the usual excuse being to improve their infrastructure in one small region.  If the infrastructure needs upgrading, just do it and don't wait for or try to bid for, an excuse to do so.

Boycott all Olympic games to boycott this stupidity.  I've done so for some years now, and my only problem is finding something else to watch/listen to.  Then again, I'm a block from a public library.

DavidDaoud
DavidDaoud

@zz1 This is exactly what I tried to bring to the writer's attention with my comment above. #24 maybe.

Surprise
Surprise

@zz1 Putin is just the person who allows to be bullied and blackmailed into something.  :)

rogerthat1945
rogerthat1945

@SnafuBob @mattd Iraq was run better under Saddam using Russian imports than the USA model of Iraq as it is today. Now Iraq is a clusterf@ck of epic proportions and will breed terrorists for the next five-hundred years set against the USA.

Sad, but true.

FrankIII
FrankIII

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