Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’
With just 40 days until the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, a suicide bombing took place this afternoon in Volgograd, Russia. Media reports 18 dead and 60 injured so far, but that number is expected to rise. It appears that the perpetrator of the attack was a female, keeping in line with previous attacks of a similar nature. The suicide attack on a Volgograd bus in October was also committed by a woman.
On Friday evening, a car bombing took place in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol. I expect we will know more about how the bomb used in the Pyatigorsk attack was constructed and what it was made with in the next few days. While they did manage to blow out quite a few windows and killed 3 men, the act itself appeared to be amateur. Caucasian Knot reported [ru] that the location chosen did not experience high traffic, with a local saying that she thought the attack was against the police and not civilians. However, if the goal of Pyatigorsk was psychological (and it appears that it was), the amount of physical damage inflicted was immaterial.
These people are not strategists, neither are they experienced. Even so, the likelihood of similar acts in the next 6 weeks is very high. The goal is psychological – striking fear into the hearts of the authorities, and making them panic. Unfortunately, what that means is that there is no way to predict the next target. The selection of Volgograd and Pyatigorsk seems to indicate that the terrorists cannot manage to travel much farther than that. Either due to problems with papers, or not enough money to bribe their way through checkpoints. Or maybe they’re just not trying. Maybe being closer to Sochi is the goal rather than a strike in Moscow.
I am on the road for the rest of the day. Here are some links to follow for updates on Volgograd:
RT’s liveblog (in English): http://rt.com/news/volgograd-suicide-bombing-updates-940/
A Twitter list: https://twitter.com/rm867/lists/sochi-2014
The Kremlin accepted the resignation of Kabardino-Balkaria’s chief, Arsen Kanokov, on Friday. A short announcement posted on the President’s website simply stated that Arsen Kanokov had resigned and was being replaced by Yuri Kokov, the former chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism branch, Department E.
There had been rumours for at least the last 18 months that Kokov wanted Kanokov’s job. A series of arrests in June 2012 of local officials seemed aimed at Kanokov’s relatives and allies. Kokov’s name popped up then as a possible rival to Kanokov, though nothing seemed to come of it. Then six months ago, an ally of Kanokov’s was gunned down in Moscow. His murder was never solved.
A later announcement on the Kremlin’s website showed a photo of Putin meeting with Kokov to discuss the acting chief’s new job. At one point, Putin noted that Kanokov had done a lot for the republic, saying:
Many problems still remain, but on the whole, the dynamic is positive. This applies to the budgetary provision and concerns the development of infrastructure. But, I repeat, the unresolved problems are, of course, much more.
Given Putin’s words and phrasing, it seems likely that Kanokov was relieved of his duties because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi. Tensions remain high in the region of the North Caucasus and fears of a terror attack during the Olympics are very real. Yuri Kokov’s appointment speaks to the fears associated with the upcoming event. As former chief of Department E, his experience in fighting extremism likely provides a feeling of security for the federal authorities. Russia has spent close to $51 billion (if not more) in the Olympic games, and Putin has a lot riding on its successful outcome.
Kanokov fought the terrorist threat in his republic as best he could, but his efforts were not acceptable by the Kremlin’s standards. In replacing Kanokov with a security expert, the Kremlin is again attempting to replicate the model of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya. However, that model is not effective. Putin has already tried this in Daghestan this year with disastrous results. The strong leader role that the Kremlin has assigned to Abdulitipov has only turned Daghestan into a war zone, with daily shootouts and bombings. Even the Kremlin’s gold standard — Ramzan Kadyrov — does not fully control Chechnya, though most of the information about acts of terrorism in that republic are hushed.
The terrorist threat to the Sochi Olympic games remains very real, but with less than 100 days remaining to the event, it seems unlikely that replacing Kanovkov will have any real impact.
With a little more than 100 days to go until the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sochi, security has become a central focus. Any security system has its weak spots, but as two incidents this week have shown, there are too many holes in Russia’s system.
The first incident was a bus bombing in Volgograd on Monday afternoon [http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/10/a_suspected_black_wi.php]. A female suicide bomber boarded a bus and blew it up. As I wrote over in my Global Voices column [http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/10/23/in-wake-of-suicide-bombing-russians-question-their-security/], some in the Russian blogosphere were quick to point out that after 14 years of Putin, Russia’s security apparatus still cannot protect its citizens.
The second incident actually took place last month, but came to light only yesterday. RIA Novosti [http://en.ria.ru/crime/20131023/184311460/Passenger-Skips-Russian-Airport-Checks-for-Bribe-Worth-47.html] reported that a man in Yakutsk bought a domestic plane ticket on a discount, using a false passport. When he arrived at the airport, he bribed a security officer to let him through “pre-flight inspection” with a bottle of cognac and a box of chocolates worth approximately $47. The police arrested the culprit before boarding the plane, but the fact that he got as far as the departure lounge is worrying.
Two stories, two different outcomes, but both reveal the single greatest threat to security surrounding the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There has been a lot of outrage about the security system put in place by the Russian security services for Sochi 2014. A report [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/06/sochi-olympic-venues-kremlin-surveillance] by security experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan “found that phone and Internet networks in Sochi have been retrofitted with a surveillance system, known by its Russian acronym Sorm, which allows the FSB to eavesdrop on phone and data communications in the city [Sochi]” [http://www.themoscowtimes.com/olympic_coverage/article/all-communications-traffic-to-be-monitored-at-sochi-olympics-report-says/487352.html].
But what good is a state of the art security system if a man can bribe his way onto a plane for under $50?
Someone claiming to be the Emir of Tatarstan has recently set up a blog with a video message that can be accessed via Vimeo: http://idelural.blogspot.co.uk/
I will confess I am not a sports fan. I am not competitive by nature, and I participated in 4 different competitive sports before I realized it. So I do not play sports, and I also do not watch them except for a few select Olympic sports. And I do not recall hearing of the Universiade before Kazan 2013 came on the scene.
That being said, I am interested in the Universiade in Kazan for one reason: security. The events in Kazan this summer (6-17 July) will be a test run for next winter’s Olympic Games in Sochi. They will be a test for Russia’s security apparatus, and could potentially be a test run for terrorists too.
I want to briefly look at the threats facing the Summer Universiade and what the authorities say they are doing to combat these threats.
The security threat is vague. We know that Tatarstan has seen some terrorist activity in the last year or so. Last July, there was a dual attack on Tatarstan’s mufti and his deputy [http://www.rferl.org/content/tatarstan-attack-spar-fears-that-islamist-threat-is-spreading/24650674.html]. The mufti miraculously survived, but his deputy did not. It is still unclear who exactly was behind the dual attack, as fingers were pointed at both “Wahabbis” & some kind of power struggle over money/influence [http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=9570].
Shortly thereafter a video was posted to YouTube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BH0_CVDy8oQ#!] of an unmasked man claiming to be Tatarstan’s emir, and reaffirming loyalty to Dokku Umarov, leader of the North Caucasus Emirate. However, it was unclear if the video was authentic.
A month later, a car exploded on the highway to Kazan [http://www.rferl.org/content/three-killed-in-tatarstan-car-blast/24682340.html]. The authorities said it was a group of 3 men who were planning a terrorist attack. Their intended target was not identified.
In late October 2012, a Counterterrorism Operation (CTO) was conducted in Kazan [http://rt.com/news/russia-militants-special-operation-140/ & http://vserusskie.ru/news/134123%5D. This was the first CTO ever conducted in Tatarstan, and ended with 2 militants, and 1 FSB officer dead [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20072293].
As for how the authorities are preparing for the event in July, here is what their candidature proposal says [http://kazan2013.net/index.php?id=questionnaire]:
Kazan has a rich experience of hosting major events including sports competitions. The level of security provided during the Universiade will satisfy the highest demands. The Organizing Committee will develop a detailed plan for ensuring safety at all facilities, especially in and around the Universiade Athletes’ Village which will be guarded twenty-four hours a day by law enforcement officers. In order to prevent illegal trespassing, the territory will be regularly patrolled and CCTV cameras will be used. Sports competition venues will be fenced by portable metal barriers. Participants and spectators will be required to pass through check points equipped with standard metal detectors. In order to ensure no forbidden objects and weapons are carried through, all bags will be checked by security guards and documents will be subject to electronic inspection. All Universiade facilities and nearby areas will be patrolled by canine handlers with dogs specially trained to search for explosives.
About 10,000 law enforcement officers from Tatarstan and the neighboring regions will be on active duty during the Universiade. If necessary, more officers can be available to guarantee safety. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tatarstan guarantees the presence of safety staff in required numbers and the reliability of the safety system during the Universiade. Moreover, specially trained volunteers in distinctive uniform, selected from Kazan University students, will help ensure public order at the Universiade facilities and recreational areas.
These are all good traditional methods of crowd control, but how effective will they be against a car bomb, for example? Tatarstan has been relatively quiet since the shootout in Kazan last October, but that is not a guarantee of safety, especially considering the fact that we know almost nothing about the insurgency in Tatarstan, including how many people claim membership. There is also a possibility that a group from the North Caucasus insurgency could come in and use Kazan as a test run for the Olympic Games in Sochi next winter.
The threat against the Universiade in July is real, however much the authorities wish to publicly turn a blind eye. This is not to say they are not gathering intelligence even now against a threat, but the lack of transparency is concerning.
I am veering away from my usual topics (the elite in Moscow) to talk about the latest Dokku Umarov video. I am doing so because while Umarov is physically far away from Moscow and its elites, he seems to be more aware of what is taking place there politically than the elites are. And he is taking advantage of the weakness that the Putin regime has portrayed (and is continuing to portray) in its moment of political crisis.
The latest video was posted two days ago on the rebel website Kavkaz Center, with the headline: “Dokku Umarov has changed the status of the population of Russia, and gave the order to avoid attacks on civilian targets.” Umarov’s stated reason was that in protesting the falsified elections, the civilian population is currently in direct conflict with the regime, and therefore deserving of this moratorium.
While the man in the video was almost certainly Umarov, the sudden and remarkable change in tactics shows that Umarov may not be the one making all of the decisions anymore. In bringing Vadalov & Gakaev back into the fold last summer, some concessions were probably made about how decisions are reached within the Caucasus Emirate. Neither Vadalov nor Gakaev were in this most recent video, and Umarov made no mention of them. However, I find it very doubtful that they are not participating in discussions on tactics, and strategies, and targets. In fact, I would be willing to posit that the two are very much involved in the larger tactical plans.
Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate leadership seek to portray the Putin regime as weak, but they are weak too. Umarov may have been trying to project strength here, but everything about this video (except for the great graphics in the first 35 seconds) screamed weakness. He’s sitting out in the cold snow, and he is obviously in pain. A terrorist attack in Moscow, or anywhere outside the North Caucasus, has not been staged for a little over a year (since Domodedovo). We have not really heard anything from Riyadus-Salikhin since then. They tried to claim responsibility for the assassination of Yuri Budanov last June, but no one really took them seriously. And as for Khamzat, the supposed leader of Riyadus-Salikhin, we saw him the last time we saw Umarov (back in October) when Umarov declared that Khamzat had not been killed in Istanbul.
As a political strategy, this moratorium is a good one, but in practical terms, it is highly doubtful that the Caucasus Emirate is currently capable of attacking even a soft target in Russia’s heartland.
I am posting a link to Medvedev’s speech at Davos. I have not had time to go through it yet, but I will post some comments in the next few days. A lot of people were worried that the terror attack somehow changed the subject from Yukos, and Magnitsky to other issues. However, I think that the real issue remains the same no matter which subject you are talking about: corruption. Anyway, commentary forthcoming…
P.S. Miriam Elder had an excellent piece published in The Atlantic about the issues surrounding the bombing of Domodedovo.