A few thoughts on suicide bombings in Volgograd

As for everyone else the news of double bombing in Volgograd has come as a great shock to me. Shock, but sadly, no surprise. I hope perpetrators will be found and punished. I also hope Russia will eventually overcome this disease of terrorism that has plagued her for decades. The following is a few thoughts that may prove useful for those thinking how to at least mitigate this disease:

Terrorists' capabilities to attack landmark targets outside the North Caucasus might have diminished. The repeated targeting of Volgograd by suicide bombers indicates that the NC-based terrorist networks might be having difficulty deploying attackers to Moscow, so they have to re-direct their operations to 'easier' targets.Volgograd's WWII history makes it an important landmark, but attacks fall short of generating as strong of an impact on the Russian public as a whole and on the federal government in particular as attacks in the Russian capital. That said, we, of course, don't know whether the attacks in Volgograd are a prelude to something more horrendous in Moscow or Sochi or other major Russian city: Recall that Basayev used to orchestrate such strings of escalating attacks: suicide bombers blowing up two planes (one of which BTW was flying to Volgograd) on Aug.24, 2004 to kill nearly a hundred and then a group seizing school No 1 in Beslan a week later. But in general, it appears that Umarov's capabilities to execute complex attacks against biggest landmarks of 'mainland Russia' seem to have been inferior to that of his predecessors, if only thanks to relentless efforts by federal and local law-enforcers.

Umarov needs to up the ante to prove his credibility as leader: The Sochi Olympics are approaching and Umarov, who has vowed that his fighters will disrupt the Olympics, needs to prove his credibility as a leader capable of taking on the Russian government. Either Umarov – who already faced a revolt by a group of commanders in 2010 and who has been less active in the past year than previously – acts or he risks 'fading away', being sidelined. The public in 'mainland Russia' has already got used to weekly shootings and other forms of violence in the North Caucasus, so Umarov needs to up the ante by staging spectacular attacks outside the North Caucasus, but close to Sochi. With less than six weeks left before Olympics, Umarov and his accomplices are, perhaps, calculating that the attacks would scare athletes away from Sochi, given that he has demonstrated capability to reach out across a comparable distance. Yandex maps shows a car would have to be driven for 530 miles from Makhachkala (from which Naida Asilyalova drove to blow herself up in Volgograd earlier this year) to reach Volgograd and 640 miles to reach Sochi). Refusal of atheletes to participate in the games for security reasons would deal a blow even if Umarov fails strike Sochi, which has seen an unprecedented security build-up (BTW it is important for security services in charge of current build-up to keep in mind that this build-up would do little to prevent bombings if explosives were embedded during construction by one of the illegally or legally employed works as it was the case with bombing of Chechnya's previous leader Akhmet Kadyrov who was killed by a bomb concealed under the VIP stand during reconstruction of Grozny's stadium).

Volgograd is almost as 'good' as Moscow if the goal is to instigate ethnic and/or religious riots: One of the goals that NC-based groups always have in mind when planning attacks in 'mainland Russia' is fueling religious and ethnic tensions in hopes of instigating a riot. An indiscriminate violent backlash against Moslems in general or natives of the North Caucasus doesn't only help to destabilize Russia in general, but also enlarges recruitment pool for these NC groups. Volgograd is, of course, not Moscow, which has seen an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants and where xenophobic sentiments run high, but still 'worth a shot' for those seeking to instigate ethnic riots.

Recruitment of 'non-Caucasians' enhances terrorists' capabilities to deploy undetected: It has been reported that the bomber behind the second of this week's blasts in Volgograd is native of Russia's Mariy El republic by the name of Pavel Pechyonkin. Pechyonkin reportedly converted to Islam and joined  the Islamist wing of the NC-based terrorist networks. This has also been the case with Dmitry Sokolov whowas the husband of Naida Asilyalova – who blew up herself in a Volgograd bus on October 21st. Sokolov even helped to organize the bombing in which his wife killed herself before being killed in a gunfight in the North Caucasus. It is also worth recalling that on Aug. 28, 2012 Aminat Kurbanova, an ethnic Russian woman whose original name was Alla Saprykina, blew herslef up to kill Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, the spiritual leader of two major Sufi orders in the North Caucasus. A number of other ethnic Slavs had earlier converted to Islam and joined the North Caucasus-based groups, including explosives expert Pavel Kosolapov and suicide bombers Vitaly Razdobudko and his wife. Such converts could be especially dangerous because they have a better chance to successfully deploy to targets in Russia where policemen there tend to focus on dark-skinned non-Slavs in their racial profiling of terrorist suspects.


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