The suicide bomber who killed at least nine foreigners on Tuesday in a popular central Istanbul tourist area belonged to ISIS
Kavkazcenter.com via AFP – Getty Images, file
Russia’s top Islamist leader Doku Umarov, left, in an undated video posted on July 3, 2013.
A trio of deadly bombings in Volgograd ahead of the Winter Olympics has focused new attention on notorious Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, who has claimed responsibility for a wave of similar terrorist attacks in the name of Islam and vowed to stop the Sochi Games.
In a video statement this summer, the self-proclaimed emir of Caucasus declared that holding the global sports spectacular in the Black Sea resort amounted to “demonic dances on the bones of our ancestors” and said his band of rebels would “use all means” to derail the event.
A security clampdown at Sochi makes a major assault at the actual Olympic Games unlikely, some analysts say, but Volgograd — some 600 miles northeast of Sochi — is the biggest city in the region and a transit hub. Two of this week’s bombings have targeted public transportation, which may give travelers from across Russia and around the world the jitters.
“The most likely suspect is either Umarov or some group connected to him,” said David Satter, a Russian scholar at the Hudson Institute. “It’s all very worrisome.”
No one has taken credit for the Volgograd carnage, and it’s not clear how much direct control Umarov, who is about 49, exercises over the loosely knit coalition of autonomous Islamist groups in the so-called Caucasus Emirate that could be to blame.
But experts say the cabals under his umbrella share a common goal — global jihad — and he has become the camera-ready face of that ideology in the region.
His early history is murky — he claims his parents were part of the Chechen intelligentsia and there are reports he got an engineering degree or did prison time — but he joined the insurgency against the Russian Federation in 1994 and fought in the second war that began in 1999.
He rose through the ranks of the Chechen independence movement until he split off from some of his old political allies in 2007 and announced a new religion-based mission: to unite Northern Caucasus into a single Islamic state ruled by Sharia law.
“Today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Palestine, our brothers are fighting,” he said at the time. “Everyone who attacked Muslims wherever they are are our enemies, common enemies. Our enemy is not Russia only, but everyone who wages war against Islam and Muslims.”
Flowers placed at the site of an explosion on a trolleybus in Volgograd.
Although he had rejected terrorism in a 2005 interview, in his new role he soon embraced sabotage and attacks on civilians, arguing it was justified by the government’s brutal crackdown on separatists.
In August 2009, a group linked to him claimed it had bombed the Sayno-Shushenskata hydro-electric plant in Siberia, killing more than two dozen people, though the government later insisted it was an accident.
Three months later, Umarov’s separatists said they had orchestrated a blast that derailed the high-speed Nevsky Express train between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, killing 27 people.
That was followed by the March 2010 suicide bombings of the Moscow subway, which killed 39 people. Umarov said it was retribution for the death of four garlic-picking villagers at the hands of security forces.
His message to Russians at the time: “I promise you that war will come to your streets and you will feel it in your lives, feel it on your own skin.”
Umarov also claimed he ordered the suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, which killed 36 people in February 2011.
“More special operations will be carried out in the future,” he said in a video posted on the Internet.
“Among us there are hundreds of brothers who are prepared to sacrifice themselves. … We can at any time carry out operations where we want.”
The father of six — who retired as emir in 2010 only to change his mind days later — was even allegedly behind a plot to kill Russian President Vladimir Putin that was reportedly foiled in 2012.
Andrew Kutchins, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Umarov has not been definitively tied to some of the attacks and “sometimes he may be talking more game than he has.”
“He hasn’t been able to establish the authority over a network as successfully as someone like Osama bin Laden,” Kutchins said.
“He’s kind of a publicity hound for sure. Just how operationally effective he has been is impossible to say.”
Several times, Russian and Chechen officials have claimed Umarov was dead. But despite taking a bullet to the jaw and stepping on a landmine, he survived to to make his most audacious threat in July — that he would stop the Sochi Games.
“Sochi has been under virtual lockdown and to penetrate that is going to be very, very difficult,” Kutchins said. “But to create a sense of terror in Russia and outside Russia about the Games could very well likely be the goal.
“We may be seeing the beginning of a series of terrorist attacks to terrorize the country — to lead some delegations to think about not attending the Games, to cast a dark shadow over Vladimir Putin’s leadership and his claims he has brought security and stability to Russia.”
Sergei Karpov / Reuters
Emergency services officials work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolley bus in Volgograd, Russia, on Monday.
MOSCOW – At least 14 people were killed and 28 wounded when an explosion ripped through a trolley bus in the Russian city of Volgograd on Monday, the country’s third deadly attack in four days.
The explosion, which tore out much of the electric vehicle’s exterior and left mangled bodies on the street, raised fears about more violence in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics that Russia will host in six weeks.
“For the second day, we are dying – it’s a nightmare,” a woman near the scene told Reuters, her voice trembling. “What are we supposed to do, just walk now?”
With only 39 days until the winter Olympic Games in Russia, today’s suicide-bomber attack at a train station has some questioning whether the nation is ready to host the international event. NBC’s Jim Maceda reports.
Volgograd, a city of around one million about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, is a key transport hub for southern Russia, with many bus routes linking it to the volatile provinces in the North Caucasus.
On Sunday, at least 16 people were killed in a terror attack by a suspected female suicide bomber at a railway station in Volgograd. And on Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 170 miles east of Sochi, where the Olympics will be held.
In October, another female suicide bomber was blamed for a bus explosion in Volgograd that killed five people.
Russian investigators said it was possible that blasts on Sunday and Monday were linked.
“Right now, we can tentatively say that the explosion was detonated by a male suicide bomber, whose remains have been collected and sent for genetic examination and identification,” the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, the country’s main investigative agency, said in a statement on its website.
“Like the explosive device at the train station, this [device] was filled with shrapnel, so this proves the suspicions of the investigation that there is a link between the two attacks. It is possible they were prepared in the same place.”
Earlier, investigators had said that the bus blast came from a bomb that most likely had been planted in the vehicle’s passenger area, according to The Associated Press.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but the leaders of an insurgency that aims to create an Islamic state out of Muslim provinces south of Volgograd have urged militants to use “maximum force” to stop the Olympics from being held.
President Vladimir Putin, who was elected after waging war against Chechen rebels in the mountains just south of Volgograd, has staked his reputation on organizing a safe Olympics.
Security experts warn that it is precisely attacks by Islamist militants whose fight rooted in this war that present Putin with his biggest security challenge now.
“Since these games were first awarded to Russia several years back, people were worried because of the long-standing conflicts,” NBC News counter-terrorism analyst Michael Leiter said after Sunday’s attack. “And this type of mass transit is what officials are most concerned with.”
The White House issued a statement within hours of the latest blast, saying President Barack Obama has been briefed on the attacks and the United States and Russia were cooperating on anti-terrorism leading up to the Games.
An International Olympic Committee spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday that there was “no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task” of providing security during the Games, which are due to start on Feb. 7.
NBC News’ F. Brinley Bruton, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Daniel Arkin reported from New York.
This story was originally published on Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:13 AM EST
Stringer / AFP – Getty Images
Russian firefighters and security personnel inspect the damage at Volgograd‘s central station after Sunday’s blast.
At least 13 people were killed in a terror attack by a suspected female suicide bomber at a railway station in Russia Sunday, officials said – the second deadly attack in three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the explosion, at the central railway station in the city of Volgograd, was an act of terror and that a criminal investigation has been launched.
The attack, which happened at about 1 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET), heightens concern about terrorism ahead of February’s Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 170 miles east of Sochi. In October, another female suicide bomber was blamed for a bus explosion in Volgograd that killed five people.
The Committee said preliminary findings after Sunday’s blast showed that the suspect was female, but federal security services were still investigation.
“Today at around 1300 an unconfirmed explosive device was detonated in front of the metal detector at the entrance to the train station in Volgograd,” the Committee said on its website. “The preliminary findings show that it was activated by a female suicide bomber.”
Russian Investigative Committee Representative Vladimir Markin told state news agency Interfax that 13 were dead.
Other reports in Russian media said that as many as 18 were killed, and at least 50 injured.
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