MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s millions of Muslim migrant workers fear Monday’s suicide bombing can only worsen a rising tide of nationalist and ethnic violence against them.
The blast that ripped through the crowded arrivals terminal of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 35 people, bore all the hallmarks of Islamist rebels from Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.
A double suicide bombing attack on the Moscow metro in March, carried out by two women from the Dagestan region in the Caucasus, triggered a wave of racist attacks in Moscow on Muslim migrants from both the Caucasus and Central Asia.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport attack, but migrant leaders are bracing for hostility.
“With this attack, I think the alienation, fear, even hatred between people from the Caucasus and the rest of the residents in Russia will only grow stronger,” said Ruslan Kurbanov of the Moscow-based Islamic Cultural Center of Russia.
“Anti-Muslim attitudes have grown very strong among Russians, you can see it on the street in the faces of people.”
Muslim minorities make up a seventh of Russia’s population. Tensions are already running so high on Moscow’s streets that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month urged people to shun xenophobic nationalism.
A few days earlier hundreds of ethnic Russian nationalists had made Fascist salutes and chanted racist slogans steps within earshot of the Kremlin in support of a football fan killed by a North Caucasus native.
Police struggled to contain the youths, who swiftly grew violent, attacking non-Slavic looking passengers on a rampage through the Moscow metro.
“The attacks in Moscow are going to further exacerbate the tensions created by the right-wing demonstrations in Moscow, and may result in further pogroms against people from the North Caucasus,” said Glen Howard, president of the U.S. research institution the Jamestown Foundation.
Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have avoided mentioning the Caucasus directly in their reaction to the bombing — even though Chechen nationalists have claimed responsibility for numerous similar attacks in the past — and this may have helped to mute any immediate nationalist backlash.
“Things have remained rather calm now because it hasn’t been immediately said who’s to blame,” said Galina Kozhevnikova of Moscow-based SOVA Center, a rights center that tracks hate crimes.
“If the beatings don’t start in the first days, they won’t. The most dangerous period is in the first two to three days, when people are upset and distraught.”
Resentment of Russia’s migrant workers has been fanned by economic slowdown and high unemployment, even though analysts say Russia will rely more and more on migrants for economic growth in the medium term as its own population shrinks.
Human rights activists say officials have long turned a blind eye to nationalism and xenophobia in a country where racist violence and vandalism are a regular occurrence.
SOVA has reported that at least 60 people were killed in hate crimes in Russia last year.
As authorities tighten the screws, trying to plug security gaps with spot checks of people who look like natives of Caucasus, life looks set to get harder for the tens of thousands of migrants in Moscow.
“After this terrorist attack, migrants from Central Asia - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan — will suffer. They are always the first to suffer,” said Karomat Sharipov, head of the Tajik Migrant Workers’ Union.
“They will be beaten and killed. But they still have to come here to work and earn money.”
Editing by Kevin Liffey