Bombers strike at Russian police

Bombers strike at Russian police. Serbia apologises for 1995 Srebrenica massacre. FARC rebels release hostage. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
31 March 2010

At least twelve people have been killed and eighteen injured after two bomb blasts in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region on Wednesday, two days after a deadly attack on Moscow's metro system killed thirty-nine people. Nine police officers are thought to be among those killed when two bombs struck the town of Kizlyar in the southern republic of Dagestan, neighbouring Chechnya.

The first blast occurred at 8:40am local time when a car rigged with explosives detonated. Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform reportedly approached security services, investigators and rescue workers who had arrived at the scene of the first explosion and blew himself up. Both explosions occurred outside the offices of the local interior ministry and the FSB security agency.

Today's bombings are the latest outbreak in a surge of violence in the Caucasus that is challenging the Kremlin. Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic, has been plagued by separatist violence that frequently targets police and government officials. Russian authorities have promised a tough response to the escalating violence engulfing the region. In an emergency meeting called on Wednesday, Russia's interior minister, Rashid G. Nurgaliyev, ordered police to increase security in public places. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack in Dagestan, though officials say the suicide bombings in Moscow and Dagestan may be linked.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who led Russia into a war against Chechen separatists in 1999, has said that those behind Monday's Moscow bombings must be scraped 'from the bottom of the sewers' and exposed. Doku Umarov, a leading Islamist rebel, is being fingered as the mastermind behind Monday’s attack. Chechen rebels however have denied responsibility in an audio message posted on Georgia’s Russian-language Pervy Kavkazsky (First Caucasus) channel, adding that the blame lies with the Russian security services themselves.

The openSecurity verdict: In the face of escalating violence, it is unclear how the Russian authorities will respond. President Medvedev has called for insurgents to be 'eliminated' but also for economic and social conditions to be improved in the Caucasus region. The delivery of such promises in an unstable region in which corruption and nepotism are deeply rooted will be challenging.

In a meeting with top judges yesterday, President Medvedev pledged to introduce tougher punishments for terrorists. Over the course of the past few years, Russia has introduced tough legislation covering terrorism and insurgency. In the wake of the 2002 Moscow theater siege, Putin introduced tougher penalties. In 2004, the Duma responded to the Beslan hostage crisis by allowing the authorities to detain terror suspects in custody for thirty days without a court-issued warrant. In 2006, the Duma passed a law allowing the security services to suspend freedom of movement and public assembly in areas where counter-terrorism operations are being conducted. In the same year, laws governing the media were amended to allow security officials to decide how and where journalists could collect information about terrorist attacks. Another raft of legislation is unlikely to decisively influence the security situation.

A political solution is likely to rely heavily on cooperation with the current Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov. Though instrumental in the fight against insurgency, Kadyrov is accused of creating a personality cult and imposing his own interpretation of Islam in the republic. Human rights organisations and journalists have documented patterns of abduction, detention, extra-judicial killings, targeted assassinations and systematic use of torture by Kadyrov's security forces. Combined with poverty and high unemployment, such heavy-handed tactics have in some cases cemented support for rebels.

Russia's close ties with Kadyrov have arguably exacerbated tensions in the region. Kadyrov's critics say that by backing him, Moscow has encouraged a climate of impunity that has cultivated unchecked brutality and human rights violations. Ignoring such criticism, the Kremlin has instead opted to praise Kadyrov for pacifying the region, despite the overwhelming evidence that insurgents are still active.

The attacks on Moscow will bring to light a brutal war that has largely been ignored by domestic Russian voters and the international community. Russian officials will no doubt be looking to review the options before them, though it is unlikely that the Kremlin will alter its support for Kadyrov in the face of public pressure that demands a strong response against the perpetrators of Moscow's metro attacks.

Quelling Islamist insurgency in the Caucuses has proven difficult for Russia. What began as a nationalist struggle in the 1990s soon became a rallying cry for Islamists around the world who want to establish an Islamic state in Chechnya. Some analysts suggest that the insurgency is mutating from a 'grassroots separatist movement toward global jihad... whose goals, propaganda and patronage point abroad.' Whilst there is certainly a foreign element present among the insurgents, critics say Moscow's attempts to draw links to al-Qaeda are aimed at relinquishing its own share of responsibility for the region's endemic corruption, poverty and insecurity. Other critics have suggested that anti-terrorism measures are merely a pretext for the Russian government to consolidate its hold on the region.

In the wake of recent attacks, the likelihood of violence spreading beyond the region is high. Paul Quinn-Judge from the International Crisis Group has warned that 'the guerrillas are trying to extend the war to Russia proper.' It has been noted that insurgents have made good use of technology, including the internet, to tap into audiences far beyond the conflict-zone to disseminate their ideology and shore up support. Likewise, Russia’s promise of a strong retaliatory response in the Caucuses will be hinge on it devising a strategy to mobilize public opinion in order to quash its opponents, and the possibility of a regional conflagration will be increased should allegations that Georgia is harbouring Islamist terrorists be repeated. 

Serbia apologises for 1995 Srebrenica massacre

The Serbian parliament has apologised for the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. After thirteen hours of parliamentary deliberations, a resolution calling for an apology was passed by a slim majority. Wednesday's resolution expressed sympathy to the victims but stopped short of calling the killings 'genocide.' In spite of attempts to show that Serbia is addressing its past misdeeds, the deliberations on the issue have highlighted that the country is still very much polarized.

The ruling Serbian coalition of pro-western Democrats and Socialists hopes to win EU and investor interest with the ruling. Other parliamentarians have been less enthusiastic about the ruling and have opposed it on the grounds that it is unjust and ignores war crimes committed against Serbs. The opposition deputy Velimir Ilic claimed that 'the crime was no greater than in other places.'

Victims say the measure is too little too late, and provides little relief given that many culprits complicit in the atrocities are still at large. They include General Ratko Mladic, the chief of staff of the Bosnian Serb army during the Bosnian war (1992-5), who stands accused of leading the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys after taking over the UN safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa.

Meanwhile, a retired US general has apologised for saying that Dutch troops failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre because openly gay soldiers were included in their peace-keeping force. General John Sheehan acknowledged that his views were inaccurate, and stressed that the 'failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of individual soldiers.'

FARC rebels release hostage

A Colombian soldier held hostage for twelve years by left-wing rebels has been released. Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo was nineteen when he was seized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and has been in captivity ever since. His release on Tuesday was the second this week by FARC and comes only weeks before Colombians go to the polls in May to choose a successor to the current president, Alvaro Uribe. The FARC are still holding 22 police and soldiers captive and have been accused by Uribe of using hostages to sway public opinion before elections. Sergeant Moncayo's release came after years of lobbying by his father, Gustavo, who walked in chains across the country to campaign for his son’s release.

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