MOSCOW (Reuters) - Chechen rebels claimed responsibility on Wednesday for two suicide bombings that killed 39 people in the Moscow metro and threatened further attacks in the Russian heartland.
Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov said in a video posted on Islamist rebel website www.kavkazcenter.com that he ordered the Moscow attacks in revenge for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s policies in the mainly-Muslim North Caucasus. It served also, he said, as a “greeting” to the Russian FSB security service.
The video was posted just hours after two suicide bombers killed at least 12 people in Russia’s North Caucasus.
The suicide bombings, which have killed at least 50 people and injured another 100 in less than three days, have stirred fears of a major bombing campaign against Russian cities by Islamist insurgents.
Umarov, Russia’s most wanted guerrilla who calls himself the “Emir of the Caucasus Emirate,” said that he had ordered the twin suicide bombings in Moscow to “destroy infidels” and to avenge Putin’s policies in the North Caucasus.
“You Russians only see the war on television and hear it on the radio, that is why you do not react to the atrocities which your bandit groups under Putin’s command carry out in the Caucasus,” said Umarov, dressed in combat gear.
“Both of these operations were carried out on my command and will not be the last,” said the bearded 45-year-old, sat on the ground in what looked like a clearing in a wood.
“I promised you that the war will come to your streets, God willing, and you will feel it under your skin,” Umarov said, ending the four-and-a-half minute long video with the words “Allahu Akhbar” (God is Greatest) and pointing his finger toward the camera.
The Caucasus rebellion presents a serious challenge to a Kremlin mindful of energy transit routes through the region and of the wider perils of separatism in a country stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific and embracing numerous ethnic groups.
Putin, who cemented his power in 1999 by launching a war to crush Chechen separatism, said the culprits behind the metro bombings must be scraped “from the bottom of the sewers.”
Putin, seen by many Russians as the country’s paramount leader, said on Wednesday that a single group could have been behind the bombings in Moscow and Dagestan.
“Yet another terrorist act has been committed. I do not rule out that it is one and the same gang acting,” Putin told a government meeting after twin suicide bombings in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar.
A car packed with explosives blew up as police gave chase. A bomber in a police uniform then set off a second blast in a crowd of police who had rushed to the site, officials said.
The coordinated attack in Kizlyar, near Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, was the latest outbreak in a surge of violence in the Caucasus that is challenging the Kremlin a decade after the second of two devastating wars against Chechen separatists.
The Kremlin had declared victory in its battle with Chechen separatists, but analysts say a wave of shootings and bombings shows Moscow has failed to tame the growing insurgency.
Local leaders say it is fueled by desperate poverty, clan rivalries, rampant corruption, Islamism and heavy-handed tactics by law enforcement agencies.
“This is a big blow to Putin,” Glen Howard, president of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said in reaction to Umarov’s video. “This is very embarrassing to Putin because he has built his whole career on promising to eradicate terrorism.”
“It means that after 10 years of warfare the Chechen resistance is still capable of striking the heart of the Russian capital and invoking fear and mayhem on the Russian population.”
Russian officials declined immediate comment on the video and state media largely ignored Umarov’s claims.
The website, which has been used by Chechen rebels to claim responsibility for attacks, said it had been sent the video but gave no more details.
Speaking in heavily accented Russian, Umarov singled out a battle with Russian forces last month in Ingushetia — a region neighboring Chechnya — in which at least 20 insurgents and some civilians were killed.
The most deadly of the metro bombs tore through the Lubyanka station, which stands in the shadow of the FSB’s headquarters, just a few kilometers away from Red Square.
Around 3,000 people gathered outside Lubyanka metro station on Wednesday to pay their respects, many lighting candles and laying red carnations at a makeshift memorial.
At the meeting, organized by pro-Kremlin youth activists, a bell rang 39 times, once for each of those killed in the metro attacks.
Additional reporting by Ludmila Danilova, Conor Humphries in Moscow and William Maclean in London, editing by Ralph Boulton