- Associated Press - Friday, January 28, 2011

MOCOW (AP) — Russia’s parliament on Friday gave preliminary approval to a law creating color-coded terrorist threat alerts, a measure rushed forward in the wake of the Moscow airport bombing that left 35 dead and raised questions about the country’s ability to handle attacks.

The proposed law is modeled on the U.S. system instituted after 9/11, which Washington announced Thursday it would be abandoned by the end of April and replaced with a new plan to notify specific people about specific threats. Critics had complained the general color alerts were unhelpful.

Russia’s State Duma, or lower house, unanimously approved the bill Friday in the first of three required readings.

Russia has not specified how its three-level codes would work. But the push to pass the legislation underlines Russia’s growing anxiety about its international security image as it tries to cope with terrorist attacks blamed on Islamist insurgents from the restive Caucasus region.

The measure was on the State Duma’s agenda for February, but the vote was rushed forward after the bombing at Domodedovo Airport, Russia’s busiest. No claim of responsibility for the bombing has been made, and officials have not publicly identified any suspects.

But, media reports say investigators are focusing on insurgents from the Caucasus region. Chechen rebels have claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks over the years, including ones against the Moscow subway system and suicide bombings of two planes that took off from Domodedovo in 2004.

The Monday afternoon explosion tore through the meeting area for international arrivals at Domodedovo. Some 180 people were injured, 129 of whom remained hospitalized Friday, according to the Health Ministry.

Authorities have not released an account of how the bombing took place, and media accounts have cited various sources as saying it was a male suicide bomber or a female, or that the bomb was remotely detonated.

The Interfax news agency on Friday cited an unidentified law enforcement source as saying that surveillance video showed an unaccompanied male suspected suicide bomber, clad in a black jacket and baseball cap, standing in the area for about 15 minutes before the blast.

Some media have shown photos of a severed head believed to be that of the bomber and say the head has been sent to a forensic laboratory for DNA analysis.

After the blast, suspicion initially fell on Chechen insurgents who have fought Russian forces since 1994 and who have claimed responsibility for an array of previous attacks, including last year’s double suicide bombing of Moscow subways that killed 40 people. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said preliminary evidence showed no connection with Chechnya.

In recent years, the Islamic insurgency that started in Chechnya has spread to adjacent parts of the Russian Caucasus, notably to Dagestan, where shootings, bombings and police operations against rebels occur almost daily. Late Thursday, security forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades killed two militants in an assault on a house in the village of Severny. One of the insurgents killed was identified by police as a militant commander, Adam Guseinov.

The respected newspaper Kommersant on Thursday reported that suspects in the airport bombing included a man identified as Vitaly Razdobudko, allegedly a member of an insurgent group in the Stavropol region of the Caucasus called the Nogai Brigade.

The state news agency RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified source as saying surveillance video showed Razdobudko was not the bomber. However, reports suggest he is being seen as possibly the organizer of the attack.

A half-dozen transport and police officials have been fired in connection with the bombing. President Dmitry Medvedev said after the blast that Domodedovo’s security was in a “state of anarchy.”

The attack stained Russia’s image at a vulnerable time, coming just before Medvedev’s appearance at the Davos World Economic Forum to try to woo international investment. The explosion also called into question Russia’s ability to safely host major international events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.

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