A suicide bomber killed 35 people and wounded more than 130 in a terrorist attack today at an airport in Russia’s capital.
Russian police said a suicide bomber detonated his vest in the middle of a crowd at the baggage claim at an international arrival terminal at Domodedovo International Airport. Domodedovo is Moscow’s largest airport, and the attack took place in the late afternoon, around 4:30 p.m. local time, when the airport is busy.
Twenty of those wounded are reported to be in critical condition; it is unclear if foreigners are among those killed. The bomb was designed to kill and wound as many people as possible. “Law enforcement officials said the power of the blast was equal to 5 kg of TNT and that the bomb was packed with metal objects to cause maximum damage,” RIA Novosti reported.
Police are searching for “three suspicious men” who may be connected to the bombing, ITAR-TASS reported. The men were stopped by police just before the attack and asked for identification.
While no group has claimed the deadly attack, suspicions fall on the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate, the terrorist insurgency in Russia’s southern Caucasus region. No statement has been released yet by Kavkaz Center, the propaganda arm of the Caucasus Emirate.
Caucasus Emirate suicide bombers have struck in Moscow in the past. In March 2010, two female suicide bombers detonated their suicide vests in Moscow’s metro, killing 39 civilians. Doku Umarov, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Caucasus Emirate, took credit for the suicide attack two days after the blasts. In June 2010, the US added Umarov to the list of specially designated global terrorists.
Female suicide bombers from the Caucasus, known as Black Widows, have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks over the past decade, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed); and the Moscow metro bombings (39 killed).
Background on Russia’s battle against al Qaeda and allied groups in the Caucasus
Over the past two decades, al Qaeda has fought alongside Chechen rebels during two brutal wars against the Russians that are thought to have resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians and thousands of Russian soldiers and Chechen fighters. The bulk of the Chechen resistance was smashed after the Second Chechen War, but al Qaeda and allied Islamist groups continued to operate, and managed to radicalize many of the remaining nationalist rebels.
Russian security forces, backed by local forces in the Caucasus, have had success in decapitating the top leadership of al Qaeda and radical Chechen forces. After killing Ibn al Khattab in 2002, security forces eliminated his successors; Abu Walid al Ghamdi was killed in 2004, and Abu Hafs al Urdani was killed in 2006.
Russian security forces also killed Saif al Islam al Masri, a member of al Qaeda’s shura and a chief financier, in 2002; and Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Saif al Tamimi (also known as Abu Omar Saif) in 2005. Tamimi served as second in command to Shamil Basayev, the military commander for the Islamic Army in the Caucasus. In 2006, Basayev and much of his leadership cadre were killed by Russian security forces.
After Basayev’s death in 2006, the Chechen and Caucasus jihadists united under the command of Doku Umarov, one of the last remaining original leaders of the Chechen rebellion and a close associate of al Qaeda. Prior to 2006, Umarov had denied having connections with al Qaeda and rejected terrorist attacks against civilians. But in 2006, Abu Hafs al Urduni announced that the Chechen jihad was being reorganized under the command of Doku Umarov after the death Basayev. By November 2007, Umarov had declared an Islamic emirate in the greater Caucasus region and named himself the emir, or leader.
Russian security forces thought Umarov was killed during a raid in November 2009 that killed several of his close aides, but he has since resurfaced.
Although the insurgency in the Caucasus largely went dormant after Basayev’s death in 2006, Umarov reignited the insurgency in the spring of 2009 by launching a wave of suicide attacks in the Caucasus. In April 2009, Umarov revived the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade, which has spearheaded the assault.
“Riyad [the Riyad-us-Saliheen martyr brigade] is believed to be descended from two other Chechen terrorist organizations led by Basayev, the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment (SPIR) and the International Islamic Brigade (IIB),” according to the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism database. “It has even been suggested that Riyad is simply the result of the marriage of these two groups.”
The Caucasus Emirate’s most recent high-profile suicide operations include: the double suicide attack in Moscow’s metro on March 29, 2010 (39 people killed); a double suicide attack that targeted police in the city of Kizlyar in Dagestan on March 31, 2010 (13 people killed); a suicide attack at a concert in Stavropol on May 26, 2010 (seven killed); the assault on Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi in Chechnya on Aug. 29, 2010 (16 killed); and the Sept. 9, 2010 suicide attack in Vladikavkaz (16 killed).
Russia’s Federal Security Service has targeted the Caucasus Emirate’s top leaders during raids in the past year. Five top commanders have been killed or captured since February 2010, including two foreign leaders.
On Feb. 2, 2010, the FSB killed Mokhmad Mohamad Shabban during a raid in a mountainous region in Dagestan. Shabban, an Egyptian who was better known as Saif Islam or the Sword of Islam, was one of the founders of al Qaeda in the Caucasus.
On March 2, 2010, FSB commandos killed Said Buryatsky and five other terrorists during a raid in Ingushetia. Buryatsky was the mufti, or religious leader, for the Caucasus Emirate, and has been described as Russia’s Osama bin Laden.
On June 9, 2010, the FSB captured Emir Magas, the military commander of the Caucasus Emirate. Magas was a longtime associate of Basayev and Ibn al Khattab. One day later Russian forces killed Yasir Amarat, a wanted terrorist commander from Jordan.
And on Aug. 22, 2010, security forces killed Emir Sayfullah, the top judicial figure for the terror group who also served as the emir of forces in Dagestan, one of the most active theaters in the Caucasus.
- Criminal case opened over Moscow airport suicide bombing, RIA Novosti
- Death toll at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport blast reaches 31, at least 130 injured – Health Ministry, RIA Novosti
- Russian capital on edge after airport blast kills 35, RIA Novosti
- Death toll in Domodedovo blast rises to 31 — ministry, ITAR-TASS
- Police say one or several suicide bombers may be behind Domodedovo blast, ITAR-TASS
- Death toll in Domodedovo explosion reaches 35, ITAR-TASS
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.