One year ago, on January 24, 2011, a powerful explosion ripped through the international arrivals hall of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 37 people. Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the blast and warned Russia to brace itself for a year of “blood and tears.”
But despite Umarov’s pledge to bring more sorrow to Russia’s streets, Moscow and other major cities have been spared further attacks in the twelve months since the Domodedovo airport bombing.
“Active militants in the North Caucasus region have other priorities right now,” said Maxim Agarkov, a security analyst with the SK-Strategia think-tank.
Insurgents in Chechnya, he said, are more concerned with an internal struggle against fighters loyal to pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a former militant who has brought an uneasy calm to the streets of his republic. Militants in other North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan have been prevented from launching attacks by financing issues and fighting with local security forces, he added.
“Moscow is not in the zone of their vital interests at the moment,” Agarkov said.
Umarov, who seeks to establish a sprawling Islamic state in Russia’s North Caucasus, also said last January there were another “fifty or sixty willing martyrs” prepared to carry out similar attacks.
Police later established that the bomb used in the Domodedovo attack had been strapped to the body of Magomed Yevloev, a twenty-year-old native of the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.
Four people have been charged with involvement in the Domodedovo blast, investigators say, while three others suspected of helping to plan the attack were shot dead in September in Istanbul. Turkish media reported, citing police sources, that the killings were carried out by a team of eight Russian agents.
Russian investigators also said that the Domodedovo bombing was intended as the culmination of a planned three-pronged assault on the Russian capital and that police had thwarted a suicide attack in central Moscow on New Year’s Eve.
Russian media reports speculated last spring that Umarov himself may have been killed in a raid by special forces on an insurgent camp in Ingushetia that left 17 militants dead. But after forensic analysis, it was determined that the body of the self-styled ‘Emir of the Caucasus’ was not among them. This was not the first time his death had been reported prematurely.
“It’s not that significant if Umarov is alive or not,” Agarkov told RIA Novosti. “He is a kind of Osama Bin Laden media figure whose genuine influence is doubtful.”
“Everyone has grown used to the fact that Umarov claims every attack in Moscow,” he added.
Umarov had earlier claimed responsibility for twin March 2010 suicide blasts on the Moscow metro, which left 39 dead. He was also blamed for the November 2009 bombing of a high-speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, which killed 26.
These blasts were the latest high-profile attacks in a long history of militant atrocities in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia claimed by or blamed on North Caucasus militants since the outbreak of the first of two brutal separatist wars in Chechnya in 1994.
Smaller attacks occur almost daily in the North Caucasus.
Another analyst, Nikolai Silyaev of Moscow’s Center for Caucasus Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, credited Russia’s security forces with preventing new large-scale attacks.
“Any major terrorist attacks leads to the police and security forces intensifying their efforts,” he told RIA Novosti.
“And there have been a number of arrests over the last year. Touch wood, but it seems their ability to strike at Moscow has been limited.”