Suicide bombing, the preferred tactic of insurgents in Iraq, has returned to haunt Russia’s increasingly bloody northern Caucasus region as the weapon of choice for an Islamist-led rebellion.
Russia was hit by a string of suicide bombings at the start of the decade, which were blamed on separatist militants from the Caucasus. Such attacks had dwindled, however, as the authorities claimed success in quelling militant uprisings.
Over the last weeks, however, a string of suicide attacks, starting with a car bombing that badly wounded the president of the Ingushetia region on June 22, have exploded any idea that the Kremlin had tamed the Caucasus.
Last week four policemen were killed in Chechnya in a double suicide bombing carried out by men on bicycles. On Tuesday another four police died when a young suicide bomber attacked them while their vehicle was in the car wash.
“I always said that the suicide bombing would return as it is the most efficient method for the insurgents in a desperate situation,” said Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The situation today is different from the dark days of the late 1990s and the start of the new decade, however, when Chechen militants carried out attacks with the aim of creating an independent Chechnya, Malashenko said.
“We are no longer talking about separatism. They want to show that they still exist and are trying to unbalance the situation. It’s no longer a strategy or a tactic. It’s become a way of life,” he said.
Suicide bombings cast a wave of fear across Russia at the start of the 21st century, with authorities terrifying the population by portraying a group of Chechen women dubbed the Black Widows as the instigators.
A strike on an administrative building in the Chechen capital Grozny killed 80 in December 2002, another suicide attack killed 15 at a Moscow rock concert in July 2003 and 90 died in a double suicide attack on aircraft in August 2004.
The insurgency now has an Islamist rather than separatist tinge, said Grigory Shvedov, editor of Kavkaz-uzel.ru (Caucasus Knot), a Web site specializing in news from the region.
“Suicide bombings are becoming more frequent as new leaders have been trained for the armed struggle,” he said.
Many of the most notorious attacks early this decade were carried out by the Riyadus Salikhiin “martyrs’ brigade,” a group led by the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006.
There was a “pause” in suicide attacks when that group faded from the scene, but today new leaders of underground groups have emerged, Shvedov said.
Perhaps the most prominent of them is Doku Umarov, leader of the “Caucasus Emirate,” which has fully broken with the secular Chechen separatists of years past and aims to establish an Islamic state across the northern Caucasus.
Umarov has not shied away from the suicide tactic, and at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan he urged further bloodshed.
“Alone, in groups, in assemblies, units and armies — do not tire and do battle with the enemies of the Almighty,” he wrote in a message posted on Chechen rebel Web sites. “Ramadan is the best time for holy war!”
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