North Caucasus Rebels Blamed For Moscow Attack

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As Russia recovers from Monday's subway attack in Moscow, there's been no claim of responsibility for the bombings. Luke Harding, Moscow bureau chief for the Guardian, tells Renee Montagne rebels from the north Caucasus region are being blamed for the attack. Six years ago, separatists from Chechnya carried out a pair of Moscow subway strikes.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As Russia recovers from the attack, there's been no claim of responsibility for the bombings.

For more on the investigation into the explosions, we turned to Luke Harding. He's the Moscow correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Thank you for joining us.

Mr. LUKE HARDING (Moscow Correspondent, The Guardian): Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Now, who are Russian officials, to your knowledge, blaming for the bombings?

Mr. HARDING: Well, Russian officials are very clearly saying that these bombers are from the North Caucasus, and that they're part of a black widow suicide gang which appears to have traveled up from Russia's sort of southern frontier - where there's a big, big insurgency going on - arrived undetected in Moscow, and then really set off early yesterday morning and wreaked havoc with these two bomb explosions.

MONTAGNE: So no, you know, names are being attached or - that's the big question now, though.

Mr. HARDING: We don't know their identities. The investigators have found various remains, and they have a rough description of the women. They were both young, between about 18 and 20, we're told, sort of dressed in dark colors: one wearing a skirt, the other wearing trousers.

Very intriguingly, we know that two Russian women appeared to have kind of shepherded them into the metro and taken them there. The suspicion is that these women had not been to Moscow before, and had certainly not used the metro.

All officials are saying there's a clear link with Russia's very unstable Caucasus region, where there's really a state of civil war in the Muslim Republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan and Chechnya, with kind of daily shootouts between radical Islamist insurgents and security forces there.

And the other thing we have to bear in mind is that federal forces have recently killed two top rebel leaders, one about three and a half weeks ago, another last week.

And the speculation that these widows may have been sent in a symbolic act of revenge directed against the Russian government - and bearing in mind that one of the bombs went off outside the Lubyanka, the headquarters of Russia's powerful counterintelligence agency.

MONTAGNE: You know, this story has brought up discussion of 2004 bombings of the subway system. Islamic separatists from Chechnya at that time - remind us about the history of Russia's terrorist problems.

Mr. HARDING: Well, the same thing is that Russia has fought two wars in Chechnya, one '94 to '96, another from '99 to 2005. And it was the second war which really launched Vladimir Putin as a politician, first as prime minister and then very quickly after he sent troops into Chechnya, as president.

And really, the Kremlin's been saying recently, in the last few years to anyone who would listen, that the situation in the North Caucasus is stable. The war is over, that stability has returned and that people can get on with their lives. But the problem is that the very brutal tactics used by both federal forces and their kind of local proxies in places like Chechnya seems to have really kind of produced new recruits, if you like. The insurgency hasn't gone away.

All the evidence suggests that over the last two years, it's got steadily worse. And I think it was really only a matter of time before the kind of violent instance that we see on a daily basis down in the Caucasus spilled over into Russian cities into a very vulnerable capital.

MONTAGNE: Vladimir Putin built his popularity on a military campaign against Chechen rebels back then. How likely is it that he will step forward now and really get tough?

Mr. HARDING: Well, there's no doubt that he'll get tough. That's Vladimir Putin's kind of reflexive setting, if you like, toughness. And, indeed, he flew back to Moscow from Siberia after the blast, pledging to destroy the terrorists. And I'm certain that we'll see a whole series of specialist operations conducted in the mountains and forests of the North Caucasus where this insurgency is going on.

I fear what there isn't really from the Kremlin is any kind of creative thinking as to how to resolve this problem. It's a complicated problem. It's not really just about terrorism. While there's no way you can condone the suicide bombings at all, which are absolutely ghastly and have spooked everybody here, at the same time, it's clear that this insurgency is caused by other factors.

It's caused by poverty and unemployment, by the very brutal behavior of local security forces there and by a sort of widespread malaise, if you like, that there are just no options. And until these kind of bigger macro issues are addressed, I think the insurgency will carry on. And also for people who live in Moscow, really, I was going to work this morning on the metro, and people were looking around each other rather wearily, and it was clear of what was in everybody's heads was the question whether these attacks would be followed by more attacks, and whether, actually, there's worse to come.

MONTAGNE: Luke, thanks very much.

Mr. HARDING: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Luke Harding is the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, speaking to us from Moscow.

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