On Friday, Russian security forces detained three people in connection with a suicide bombing that claimed the lives of eighteen people and injured over 140. The death toll is still expected to rise as several of the wounded are in a critical condition. The suicide bomber detonated their explosives in a busy marketplace in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, on Thursday. According to Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB internal security service, the three individuals detained on Friday are suspected of being the bomber’s accomplices.
The bomb used in the attack reportedly comprised 40 kg of TNT equivalent, ball bearings, bolts and metal bars. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed that the authorities will capture the ‘bastards’ involved in the attack, although no group has yet admitted responsibility for the attack, the deadliest of its kind since the twin suicide bombing against Moscow’s underground network in March killed forty people and injured 100.
The openSecurity verdict: Patterns of violence across Russia’s restive north caucasus have been intensifying since at least as early as the Second Chechen war of 1999. Although nominally a success, restoring Russian federal control over the hitherto autonomous Chechen republic of Ichkeria, the war was notable for both the heavy-handed use of Russian airpower and artillery, leading to heavy civilian casualties (estimated at 25,000-50,000), and a large influx of foreign fighters. Following the end of hostilities, Russia has continued to be embroiled in a low-level insurgency that has encompasses the province as well as neighbouring Daghestan.
From 2002 and escalating from 2008, these regional insurgencies have been complemented by terrorist attacks across the region, including North Ossetia and Ingushetia. One of the bloodiest incidents, the Beslan Masscare in which 330 people were killed, occurred in North Ossetia. The attacks have reached into the heart of Russia’s capital city on two key occasions; the 2002 Nord-Ost hostage crisis and the 2010 attack on the Moscow metro network. The scale of the intensifying attacks within the region is evident in the number of reported deaths: 442 by November in 2009 compared with 150 for the whole of 2008.
The attrition on security forces has become a major problem for Moscow: between 2009 and 2010, 240 interior ministry troops have been killed and nearly 700 wounded. Such is the problem that substantial reinforcements have been deployed to the region in addition to counter-insurgency forces still operating in Chechnya. This has included increasing standing forces in the region from two divisions to seven motorised brigades and a tank brigade and upgrading the aviation regiments of the North Caucasus Military district to full military airbases, each disposing of at least five squadrons. This was done under the pretext of strengthening Russian positions against the possibility of a Georgian attack. It seems clear, purely from the levels of violence across Russia’s soft underbelly, that the ongoing insurgency is Russia’s principal security concern and is absorbing more resources and manpower, to little apparent effect. Although it is perhaps premature to discuss the conflict in comparison with the current quagmire in Afghanistan, it is likely that simply increasing deployed military forces in the region will galvanise already intensifying armed resistance. If Moscow’s next move is to meet force with force, the situation may destablilise rapidly.
Quran burning protest leads to bloodshed in Afghanistan
A man has reportedly been shot and killed in Afghanistan in riots protesting against the planned Quran burning by a US pastor. The incident occurred when a crowd numbering an estimated 10,000 people attacked a Nato base in Badakhshan province. Local government spokesman Amin Sohail said that the man was killed in the provincial capital of Faizabad after members of the crowd threw stones at the base triggering an reprisal from the Nato troops stationed there.
The violent protests have been triggered by the planned burning of Qurans by Florida pastor Terry Jones on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The plans have drawn similar ire from Muslim communities across the world. In Afghanistan, demonstrations were held both in Kabul and along the restive Afghan – Pakistan border. In London, thousands of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community gathered at their mosque in Morden. There, the head of the Ahmadiyya community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, denounced the planned burning as ‘religious extremism.’
Both Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia have called on the pastor to call off the planned book burning. In response to pressure from US President Barak Obama, the US State department and the Pentagon, Terry Jones had earlier said that he had cancelled the event. He then changed his position, saying that the event is simply ‘on hold’, citing an apparent deal regarding the proposed ‘Ground Zero’ Islamic centre on which the government had apparently reneged.
Street gangs impose public transport strike in El Salvador
In reaction to a new law banning gang membership in El Salvador, the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha groups have effectively shut down public transport for a third day running. The two gangs or maras, which the new legislation will proscribe as ‘social extermination groups’, have intimidated transport chiefs into shutting down an estimated 80% of services, despite the deployment of thousands of police and soldiers to protect bus drivers and commuters.
The strike is targeted at El Salvador’s President, Mauricio Funes, in an attempt to dissuade him from signing the new law, passed by the parliament following a gang bus burning in July which killed seventeen people. President Funes has already announced that he will not be deterred, saying on Wednesday that the move by the maras was anticipated and it will not stop him signing the legislation.
Somali Islamists attack Mogadishu airport
On Thursday the Somali Islamist militia al-Shabab claimed credit for a suicide attack against Mogadishu airport that killed an estimated nine people. Two African Union (AU) peacekeepers were among the dead. The attack comprised two cars, the first of which exploded at the airport entrance, killing two women beggars. The second drove through the gap, disgorging a number of gunmen who proceeded to open fire. Five militants subsequently blew themselves up trying to reach the airport terminal. Although witness reports put the death toll at nine, there is still a lack of clarity on the issue, with the Somali government claiming that only three people lost their lives.
It was thought that the first car was detonated by its driver, but an AU spokesman has claimed that it was destroyed by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launched by peacekeeping forces. The attack came less than twenty four hours after another clash between AU forces and Al-Shabab which left eleven people dead. The new intensity of violence in Mogadishu has followed attempts by al-Shabab, which is fighting to impose radical Islamist rule in Somalia, to tighten their grip on Mogadishu. Their siege of the city has already lasted for months, following a major offensive launched in May 2009 with the aid of fellow Islamist group Hizbul Islam.