- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed “retribution is inevitable” for the suicide bombing that killed 35 people at Russia‘s busiest airport, while President Dmitry Medvedev demanded robust checks at all transport hubs and lashed out at the airport for lax security.

NTV television showed a photograph of what it said was the detached head of the suspected bomber, a man who appeared to be in his 30s. Investigators said DNA testing will be necessary before he can be identified.

No claims of responsibility have been made for the attack Monday at Domodedovo Airport, which also left 180 people injured. Suspicion is likely to fall, however, on Islamist separatist insurgents from Chechnya or elsewhere in Russia‘s restive Caucasus region who have been battling Russian authority for over 15 years.

Chechen insurgents have claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Moscow, including a double suicide bombing on the capital’s subway system in March 2010 that killed 40 people. They also have hit Domodedovo Airport before, with two suicide bombers slipping through its security in 2004 to kill 90 people.

Authorities in the Czech Republic and Ukraine beefed up airport security Tuesday in response to the blast. The British agency responsible for Europe’s busiest airport, London’s Heathrow, refused to comment on any new possible security measures but has said security is always under review.

Mr. Putin has built much of his reputation on his harsh stance against terror, but he did not elaborate on what kind of retribution he had in mind during a government meeting Tuesday.

Mr. Medvedev described Domodedovo Airport security as being in “a state of anarchy” and said its management must bear key responsibility for the security failures that contributed to Monday’s blast. Airport management objected, saying transport police were responsible for the inspection of people coming into the international arrivals area where the bombing took place.

The Russian president also vowed to fire or discipline government security officials for any lapses.

The blast undermines confidence in Russia’s security ahead of Mr. Medvedev’s high-profile appearance this week seeking investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The attack also called into question Russia’s ability to safely host major international events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.

Still, the International Olympic Committee declared Tuesday that it has “no doubt” that Russia will deliver a safe Winter Games, even though the Black Sea resort of Sochi is relatively close to the volatile North Caucasus region.

“Security at Sochi 2014 is already highest priority, and plans (are) constantly under review,” Sochi organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said.

Many athletes, officials and visitors traveling to Sochi will need to take connecting flights in Moscow.

Aviation security experts have been warning since the Sept. 11 attacks that the crowds at many airports present a tempting target for suicide bombers. The latest bombing exposed the unprotected underbelly of airport security — the international arrivals area, packed with families, taxi drivers and businesspeople. Few airports in the world control the entrances to such areas.

Mr. Putin rose to power largely on his tough-against-terror image, including a famous vow that Chechen rebels would be hunted down and killed “in the outhouse.” But despite launching the second Russia-Chechnya war and pushing harsh against suspected rebels, he was unable to wipe out the Chechen insurgency during his 2000-2008 presidency.

In addition, it’s unclear what levers Mr. Putin could push now if he aims to exact retribution. After the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis that left more than 330 people dead, Mr. Putin pushed through changes that made regional governors appointed rather than elected. Still, further attempts at consolidating Kremlin control could provoke a backlash from a growing opposition movement.

The Russian president, often seen as submissive to Mr. Putin, appeared to be trying to assert his power Tuesday by suggesting that officials at both the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service could be at fault.

Mr. Medvedev also called for “total examination” of passengers and baggage at key transport centers. “This will make it longer for passengers, but it’s the only way,” he said.

President Obama called Mr. Medvedev to express his condolences for the suicide bombing.

The Emergencies Ministry said the dead included one person each from Britain, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; 16 were Russians; and the remaining 12 have not been identified. A further 110 people, including nine foreigners, were hospitalized.

Among the dead was Ukrainian playwright Anna Yablonskaya, who had flown into Moscow to accept an arts award.

The blast came at 4:32 p.m. Monday, when thousands of passengers and workers were in the international arrivals terminal. They were sprayed with shrapnel containing screws and ball bearings, intended to cause as many casualties as possible.

Domodedovo, 26 miles southeast of Moscow, is the largest of the three major airports serving the capital, handling more than 22 million passengers last year.

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