03/30/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA
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The Islamisation of the Caucasus, Putin’s work

Moscow is mourning today. The metro station bombings are rooted in Russia’s decision to use force in Chechnya and reject an offer of dialogue made by the late Chechen President Maskhadov. The attacks now raise concerns about xenophobia and possible human rights violations in the country.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – It is still unclear who is behind the Moscow metro bombings, a situation that might not be settled for some time. Even though the involvement of ‘black widows” remains a possibility, it has not been proven, despite what the media are saying. However, the 39 dead clearly demonstrate two things, namely the failure of Putin’s stabilisation policy (not only has Chechen terrorism not been defeated, but it has now spread to Dagestan and Ingushetia) and the Islamisation of the Chechen insurgency (now closer in outlook to the Taliban than to an independence movement).

Today in Moscow is a day of mourning. Flags are flying at half-mast, radio and TV have been suspended, and ordinary people are laying flowers and candles outside the two subway stations, Park Kultury and Lubyanka, where the attacks took place.

Police have been deployed across the capital’s underground metro network as cities like Saint Petersburg Novosibirsk also adopt tighter security measures.

The worst attacks of the last six years have been blamed on rebels from the North Caucasus, 71 people are still suffering the consequences of those incidents, five in serious conditions. However, they did not come out of the blue. Chechen independence leader and self-proclaimed Emir of the North Caucasus Doku Umarov had warned on an Islamist website that jihad was coming to the whole of Russia.

That the conflict has morphed is not only demonstrated by Umarov’s reference to Islamic holy war, but also by the choice of targets, namely the transport system. The fact that the Lubyanka metro station was also picked is another because it lies just below Lubyanka Square, where the historic headquarters of Russia’s domestic security service are located (in recent months Russian security forces are known to have beheaded a number of Islamist fighters). All this suggests that the Chechen insurgency is very different from that of 1999-2004.

Then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov led the armed struggle against Russia but did not resort to terrorism. He maintained a secular outlook and was open to dialogue, which the Kremlin disregarded. Instead, Russian forces went for an all-out offensive that is still causing daily casualties in the northern Caucasus and regular bloodbaths in Russia’s heartland.

This has led to the radicalisation of the Chechen independence movement. Groups notorious for using suicide bombers, like that led Shamil Basayev and his successor Umarov, have joined forces with the mainstream movement. Chechen rebels have thus become more extremist in terms of ideology and modus operandi.

The newspaper Kommersant reported today that Said Buryatski, a top Islamist commander from the Caucasus, could be behind yesterday’s attack. Some reports indicate that a commando of 30 fighters, educated in Turkish madrassas and trained in Chechnya and Ingushetia, was sent to carry out the operation.

The Moscow metro bombings are raising other concerns as well. The attacks might actually increase the country’s high level of xenophobia and provide those in power with an excuse to let the security forces loose on the “terrorists”.

In fact, in Ingushetia relatives of known Chechen fighters have already been visited by police. And in the Caucasus, a visit by police very often means a round-up and people going missing. (MA)

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