As you might expect, Russians are pissed.
Chechen rebels claimed responsibility Wednesday for last week's Russian train bombing, which killed at least 26 people and injured scores of others, a Web site sympathetic to the militants said.
The claim, posted on the Kavkazcenter.com site, could buttress the suspicions of officials who are tracing the attack to Islamist separatists in Russia's North Caucasus region. It also raises fears of a fresh wave of attacks outside the region after a five-year break - a renewal of violence that would mirror the growing unrest inside the region.
The separatist statement, issued on behalf of Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov, claimed Friday's bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train was carried out on his orders.
"We declare that this operation was prepared and carried out ... pursuant to the order of the Emir of Caucasus Emirate," or Umarov, the statement said.
Of course, the cops were walking around on the day of the bombing asking local residents if they'd seen anyone that looked Chechen, so I'm not sure it made much difference who claimed responsibility.
The attack has struck a nerve in Russian society. About 1,500 people gathered for a state-sanctioned anti-terrorism rally in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
Participants in the protest, organized by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party United Russia, held banners, with slogans including "Terrorists are not People and "Find and Annihilate."
Meanwhile, the Russia's most prominent spiritual leader is telling Christians to steel themselves for a long struggle:
There's been plenty of recent local violence, which isn't much of a surprise to anyone anymore, but now Russian security types are speculating that the Chechen cause has gone out of area again. You're also likely to see a lot of speculation about smaller attacks, "leaderless jihad," and the same sort of discussions that are coming out of the Fort Hood shootings, all leading to the conclusion that the Russians are really bad at internal policing (sort of ironic, ain't it?). Case in point:
The powerful head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, issued a statement Sunday warning that Friday’s train attack could trigger increased tensions between Russia’s majority Christian and large Muslim communities. And in a politically inspirational vein, which has so far been absent from the comments of Kremlin leaders about the tragedy, Kirill urged Russians to dig in for a long war against terrorism.
“This is a grave challenge for our people,” he said. “A crime, in which any one of us could be the victim, has been committed for effect. Everyone living in Russia is being intimidated.”
Won't be the last of this, I'm sure.
Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, an Internet journal that reports on security issues (an English-language version is here) says that Russia’s security forces, at great cost, did manage to crush the large-scale terrorist operations mounted by Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, such as the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater, and the 2004 Beslan school assault, in which scores of terrorist commandos sometimes moved hundreds of miles to hit their targets.
But, he says, like generals preparing for the last war, Russian security services remain fixated on preventing big, spectacular attacks like those of the recent past, instead of preparing for smaller-scale strikes at targets of opportunity, such as the bombings of the Nevsky Express.
“We see new modus operandi taking shape, in which tiny cells of terrorists of 3 to 5 people plan and execute acts of sabotage,” he says. “But our security forces have militarized this problem, and are not set up to deal with small threats like that. The main agency dealing with anti-terrorism is the Interior Ministry, which basically operates an internal army. They are in no way ready for what may be coming,” he says.