2 Bombings In Russia Raise Olympic Security Questions

One of southern Russia's largest cities is reeling from two deadly bombings in the last 24 hours. The violence took place in Volgograd which is hundreds of miles from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will be held. This has raised questions about whether these acts of terrorism are related to the staging of the Olympics.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

One of southern Russia's major cities is reeling after two deadly bombings in the last 24 hours. The violence took place in Volgograd. That's hundreds of miles from Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will begin in six weeks. But this has raised a lot of questions about whether these acts of terrorism are related to the Games.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber killed at least 17 people at the entrance of Volgograd's main train station. And today another bomb killed at least 10 people on a city bus during rush hour.

NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line from Moscow. Corey, good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So have there been any claims of responsibility for these attacks at this point?

FLINTOFF: Well, not that we know of so far. You know, there was another bus bombing in Volgograd in October, though, and that seems to fit the same pattern as these latest attacks. Police say that October attack was carried out by a woman from Dagestan - which is not far away. It's in the North Caucasus region - and that it was instigated by Islamist militants there.

Those militants have been fighting a long-running insurgency against the Russia government. Basically they say they want to create a fundamentalist Muslim caliphate, Muslim state in the North Caucasus, in the areas around Chechnya and Dagestan.

Yesterday's attack at the train station may have been carried out by a woman - we're still hearing differing accounts about that - but if so, that would continue a pattern of so-called black widows - that is, women who are the widows or sisters of insurgents in the North Caucasus who've been killed and they're said to carry out these attacks as revenge.

GREENE: Well, Corey, I guess it's worth talking a little bit about the geography here. The North Caucasus, where these black widows and this insurgency are said to come from the city of Volgograd Sochi, where the Olympics are going to take place, I mean these places are not on the doorstep of one another, but all in the same general vicinity of Russia.

Do we think these attacks are connected to the games in some way?

FLINTOFF: Well, we don't know for sure, but last summer one of the militant leaders from the North Caucasus from Dagestan, his name is Doku Umarov, called for attacks against the Olympic Games, which he called satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.

There's actually some history behind that. The Alpine events of the Olympics are taking place in an area where the Russian Empire declared victory in its conquest of the North Caucasus way back in 1864. This is during the American Civil War era.

GREENE: Wow.

FLINTOFF: So there is some background. As far as Sochi is concerned, the authorities have developed a really tight security plan there. But some security experts are saying that the real danger may lie in other parts of the country, you know, and Volgograd could be an example of that.

You know, it's a city of about a million people. It's probably a bit more vulnerable because it's closer to the insurgency, but this is like striking an American city like Dallas, say, or San Jose.

You know, the authorities just can't protect every possible target, and a series of attacks like this could keep people from visiting the Games.

GREENE: It's worth mentioning, I mean Vladimir Putin has been very aggressive in trying to fight this insurgency down in the North Caucasus. But some critics have said that he's been too aggressive and that's actually inflamed the insurgency down there.

FLINTOFF: Yes. We heard that. In fact, you remember, of course, the Boston Marathon bombers came from a Chechen family that lived in Dagestan. And when we were down there covering that story, we heard from a lot of people who said that police abuses and heavy-handed tactics by the Anti-Terrorism Squad were actually converting people into insurgents. So that could be a facet here.

GREENE: And I guess even will before the Olympic, Corey, we a have huge holiday in Russia - New Year's, when thousands of people are going to be gathering on Red Square. I suppose security is going to have to be beefed up for that.

FLINTOFF: Absolutely. I think these latest attacks will bring out an even bigger police presence around Red Square in Moscow and probably in other major Russian cities as well. But it's like U.S. concerns about protecting places such as Times Square. You just can't be everywhere.

GREENE: All right. We've been talking to NPR's Cory Flintoff in Moscow about two acts of terrorism in a large city in southern Russia in the last 24 hours. Corey, thanks a lot.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, David.

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