In less than 24 hours, two fatal terrorist blasts rocked the Russian city of Volgograd. On the morning of December 30, an explosive device ripped through a trolley bus loaded with passengers at about 8:10 AM local time. At least 14 persons were killed by the blast while dozens more were injured, some critically. On December 29, a suicide bomber killed 17 people and injured 40 more at the Volgograd rail station.
The trolley bus bomb may still claim more lives: a six-month-old infant and several others of the 28 wounded are in guarded condition. The baby's parents are feared dead. It is believed that both bombings were the work of suicide strikes. So far, no group has owned up to the attacks, but it came just months after Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov called for attacks on civilians in Russia and at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games that begin in February. Umarov, the self-proclaimed leader of the Caucasus Emirate terrorist organization, has called on fellow Muslims to halt the Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered a tightening of security in Volgograd, Moscow and elsewhere in Russia after the attacks. He held an emergency meeting with the heads of Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry on December 30. The coming Winter Olympics is a prestige project for Putin, who has invested millions in infrastructure and other improvements to the area including Sochi. The site of the Olympic Games is located about 430 miles south of Volgograd, which was once known as Stalingrad.
Government spokesman Vladimir Markin said investigators believe a male suicide bomber was responsible for the December 30 attack, which he said was linked to the rail station bombing. Some reports suggest that a female suicide bomber may have been involved in the December 29 blast. Remains of both suspected bombers, which were recovered at the scenes, are undergoing DNA testing. In raw video of the aftermath of the rail station bombing, pieces of shredded human remains could be seen in the rubble.
The December 30 trolley bus bomber is the third such attack in Volgograd in two months. Television reports of the bombing, which took place near a market in the city’s Dzerzhinsky district, showed debris strewn across the street around the blackened shell of the trolleybus. The force of the blast blew out the windows of the nearby houses.
Russian security forces were active on December 30 following the deadly blasts. At least three suspected militants were killed by heavily armed police forces in a counter-terrorism operation. According to Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK), they were alleged to be plotting further attacks. They died in a hail of exchanged gunfire at a house in the town of Chegem in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. NAK released a statement saying, “The gunmen were planning terror acts during the New Year and Christmas holidays to destabilize the situation in the republic.” Two officers were injured in the hours-long siege. Before the suspected terrorists were killed, a female suspect with a young child was allowed to surrender. The terrorist suspects had been accused of the murder of two Russian police officers earlier this month, among other crimes.
Islamist terror, which was once confined mostly to Chechnya, has now spread across the North Caucasus region in recent years. Attacks on security forces, police and civilians are reported regularly in the nearby republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Volgograd witnessed a terror attack in October 2013 in which six people were killed and 37 injured. In that case, a young woman from the southern republic of Dagestan detonated a bomb while she was traveling on a commuter bus. On December 27, a car bomb killed three people in Pyatigorsk, a city some 450 miles south of Volgograd.
The areas affected by the blasts are located in and near the North Caucasus, a volatile multiethnic region that has suffered frequent attacksby local Islamist militant groups. Evolving from a separatist movement in Chechnya in 1990s, it has since become an Islamist insurgency that has spread to neighboring predominantly Muslim republics, particularly Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Most of the terrorists assaulting Russia over the last ten years have come from Dagestan. Among them were female suicide bombers who have taken part in 20 attacks that took 780 lives since June 2000. Over the last year, some 260 suspected terrorists have been killed by security forces in the North Caucasus region. Russia’s anti-terrorism agency said that 42 insurgent leaders have been killed, including the organizers of the October suicide bus bombing in Volgograd that killed six people and wounded dozens more. Security forces have been able to seize more than 320 homemade bombs over the course of 70 anti-terrorist operations in the region, the committee said. They claim to have prevented 12 terrorist attacks. However, despite the efforts of Russian security forces, the Islamist terror appears to continue unabated.