- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2011

As Russian authorities sift through the wreckage of the Moscow airport attack, the world’s attention will be drawn to the Muslim separatists who experts suspect carried out the Monday bombing.

Known as Imarat Kavkaz, or the Caucasus Emirate, the group was formed in 2007 with the goal of bringing Islamic law to the North Caucasus, a region of Russia that includes Chechnya, an Islamic-majority province that has been in some form of rebellion against Moscow since the 19th century.

No one had claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack at Moscow’s busiest airport, but analysts in Washington said all signs pointed to the hand of the Caucasus Emirate.

The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber carrying a suitcase into the reception area of Domodedovo Airport, where taxi drivers and relatives wait for air travelers to arrive.

The explosion sprayed the area with shrapnel, screws and ball bearings, according to the Associated Press. By the afternoon, the area was engulfed in smoke, and at least 35 people were killed and 170 injured.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called it a “terrorist attack,” but he did not point the finger at the Caucasus Emirate. However, he said his government was initiating a review of the lax security that allowed the attack to succeed.

If the bombing is the work of the Caucasus Emirate, it shows how the Islamic insurgency in those states has not been defeated, despite the early predictions that it was squashed after Russia’s secret police killed Shamil Basayev, a Chechen separatist leader, in a 2006 bomb attack.

At that time, President Vladimir Putin said in a speech that a 1,000-year era of peace had just begun.

“In the last five years, the Russians believed they had pacified the problem,” said Juan Zarate, a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But the attack on the subway last year and this attack underscore there are festering issues and conflicts still unresolved.”

The latest wave of terrorism for Russians began last February, when Caucasus Emirate leader Dokku Imarov announced that Russian cities would be included in the “zone of military operations.”

On March 29, two synchronized suicide bombings in Moscow’s subway killed 40 people and wounded more than 100 others. “Both of these operations were carried out on my command and will not be the last,” Mr. Imarov said after the attack.

“The Russian airport is a much more prominent and symbolic target than the Moscow subways,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “In this sense, this is a significant attack.”

In 2004, two female suicide bombers — known in Russia as “black widows” — entered the Domodedovo Airport, purchased airline tickets and detonated themselves on separate planes, killing 90 people.

Mr. Gartenstein-Ross said analysts differed on the direct ties between the Caucasus Emirates and al Qaeda, but he described the group as “jihadist” because it seeks to impose an ascetic version of Islamic law and considers itself an emirate, or principality, of a larger Islamic caliphate.

“I think it is definitively clear that the Caucasus Emirate is a jihadi organization in ideological outlook, meaning that it has an al Qaeda-like view of the world. People debate the depth of the links with al Qaeda, but the ideology is clear,” he said.

Around the world, leaders expressed sympathy for the victims of the attack and offered to help. President Obama condemned the attacks as “outrageous,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

A spokesman for 10 Downing St. in London said British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attack as well.

“The prime minister utterly condemned today’s explosion at Domodedovo Airport,” the spokesman said, according to the Associated Press. “He offered his condolences and sympathies to all those who had been affected by what he described as an ‘appalling attack.’”

Mr. Zarate said the United States in the past has targeted Chechen terrorist leaders for financial sanctions.

“We have done information-sharing and offered training,” he said. “But we are not going to go into Russia with boots on the ground.”

“The one thing we Americans forget is how consistently the Russians have come under attacks by terrorists,” Mr. Zarate said. “Whether it is the Moscow theater attacks or others, the Russians have come under consistent attacks in ways we often forget.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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