01/25/2011, 00.00
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Pope expresses sorrow as Moscow finds itself more vulnerable, intolerant after airport massacre

by Nina Achmatova
The Pontiff sends a telegram to President Medvedev. After the Domodedovo airport attack, Russian police and intelligence services come in for criticism for failing to prevent the airport attack less than a year since the Moscow metro bombing. Now many fear an escalation of tensions involving immigrant communities from the Caucasus. Religious leaders appeal for unity.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “profound sadness and strong reprobation for the grave act of violence” that occurred in Domodedovo Airport yesterday. In a telegram to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Pontiff offered his “fervid prayers [. . .] for the broken lives” and “a special thought for those who were wounded”.

Just ten months after the metro station attack of 29 March, Moscow has sadly become used to be hit by terrorism. However, what happened yesterday in Domodedovo, the first major attack against an airport in Russia’s history, raises questions about Russian intelligence and security forces.

Following a well-rehearsed script, the authorities said the suicide attack was carried out by people from the Caucasus, women most likely, as was the case in the Moscow metro station attack of last March when two ‘black widows’ killed 40 commuters.

After a head was found, early indications suggest the attacker had Arab features. The suicide bomber carried 7 kilograms of TNT, but not in a suitcase as first thought since the blast did not produce a crater in the international arrivals hall.

Although Russian authorities accuse Arab mercenaries of backing rebel forces in the Caucasus, the human remains found at the scene of the blast might be those of a militant from that region. Some investigators continue in fact to believe in a Chechen connection.

The Kremlin’s immediate reaction was to promise an iron-fisted response against the culprits. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin however played the role of the concerned father caring for his nation. In a statement, he called on his ministers to do their utmost for the wounded and the victims’ families, putting aside for once the usual bellicose rhetoric he is known to use in such cases.

Intelligence blamed

When Russia woke up this morning, a day after the Domodedovo massacre (35 dead), it found itself more tense and uneasy, especially since the attack was almost pre-announced. Security forces revealed that they knew about an upcoming attack against a Moscow airport. Indeed, they were looking for three suspects who were however able to get inside Domodedovo to observe their accomplice set off the explosion before they fled the scene.

This was a humiliating failure for a government and a country were security checks have become an obsession. President Medvedev, whilst announcing special security measures for airports, train and metro stations, blamed the incident on a lapse in antiterrorism security.

Some analysts have not excluded the possibility of an underground war among security forces. For others, the event might lead to calls for the return to the Kremlin of a strongman like Vladimir Putin after a weakened Medvedev appeared powerless under the bright lights of TV cameras.

Religious leaders call for unity

The attack is likely to have an effect on Moscow’s already tense interethnic relations. Back in December, police clashed under the walls of the Kremlin with 5,000 nationalist fans chanting anti-immigrant slogans.

On Saturday, ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovski said people from the Caucasus did not know how to work or study, and that they took over everything and did not respect the law.

All this is fuelling Islamic extremism and separatism in the predominantly Muslim Caucasus republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, where the population is increasingly dissatisfied with Moscow, seen more like an oppressor than a guarantor of peace and development, as Putin would like it to be.

For this reason, Christian and Muslim religious leaders reacted right away, calling for unity. “Such criminal aggression has no justification,” said Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. “Now we must all be united to fight these inhuman attacks against innocent people,” he added. Describing the attack as “a monstrous crime”, he stressed that human life is a gift from God and such attacks are not only an outrage against human beings but also against their Creator.”

The head of the executive committee of the Russian Association of Islamic Concord, Muhammedgali Huzin, said, “We shall never tire reiterating our demand for tougher punishment for those who attack the life of innocent people, trying to sow hatred in our multiethnic and pluralist Russia.”

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