Day: March 30, 2010

The "Black Widow" stories

As Norbert Strade has pointed out, the March 29 bomb attacks on the Moscow subway, and their aftermath, have many features in common with the bomb blasts that were frequent in Russia during the mid-2000s:

– The 2003 attack on a rock concert on the Tushino airfield. Bombs exploded in two waste baskets, according to witnesses. The Russian authorities blamed female suicide bombers and “found” their passports.

– Also 2003, a car was blown up next to the “National Hotel” (a well-known mafia joint). After a while, the story was spun into a “female suicide bomber” case, and again, they “found” a passport.

– In 2004, two bomb explosions in the Moscow metro. It took the authorities several days to make up a story about a Caucasian suicide bomber in the first case, while the witness accounts went in many different directions and the established facts pointed at a criminal connection . In the second attack, they again “found” the remains and the passport of a female suicide bomber.

Btw., passports have a remarkable ability to survive terrorist bomb explosions.

– Also in 2004, the bomb explosions in two airplanes in connection with the Beslan hostage taking (claimed by Shamil Basayev) were highly suspect. In spite of the fact that their own investigation had stated that the airplanes were blown up by bombs placed in the baggage compartment, the Russian authorities continued their “black widow” stories. And they had to tweak their version several times, until it had become completely comical (two “black widows” – apparently dressed up to the act – had bribed their way into both planes and then simultaneously,in mid-air, blown up the bombs in the baggage with remote controls – what gives…).

Not to forget, while there is a serious lack of hard evidence linking North Caucasian suicide bombers to the mentioned attacks, one shouldn’t forget how FSB officers were caught red-handed trying to blow up an apartment building in 1999.  

To this it might be added that at least one of the apparent motives for the murder of the ex-KGB and ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was his account of the last-mentioned incident from an insider’s point of view.

It seems that in Russia’s war on terror little has altered in the space of 10 years. Even the rhetoric is unchanged. Today, Vladimir Putin said: “We know that in this case they are hiding  on the bottom, but it is now a a matter of honour for our law enforcement officers to winkle them out from the bottom of the sewer into the light of day” (quoted from ITAR-TASS).  Putin first used the “sewer” imagery in relation to Chechen terrorists back in 2000 (which was also the year of the first suicide bombing in Russia), but has not re-used it until now. 


Some points to consider in relation to yesterday’s bombing attacks on the Moscow subway.

– Almost without exception, Western media accepted at face value the official statements by Russia’s FSB and other agencies, including the terminology that was used in them. The existence of a “Black Widows” organization dedicated to obtaining revenge for the deaths of slain Islamist insurgents was also treated in some reports almost as an established fact, even though there is little independent evidence to support it.

– The alleged involvement of female suicide bombers – in particular, the “Black Widows” – was a feature of Russian media coverage and official statements (notably the FSB) following earlier terror attacks in Russia, particularly at Nord-Ost and Beslan. In the past, many commentators both in Russia and abroad drew attention to the fact that the “Black Widows” scenario, with its dramatic and even theatrical elements, does not look particularly convincing on close examination. For one thing, among North Caucasus Islamic insurgents shahid or “martyr” operations are usually carried out by men.

– A number of Russian analysts have suggested it is unlikely that the motive for the attacks was revenge for the FSB’s recent killing of Islamist leaders including Anzor Astemirov and Alexander Tikhomirov (“Said Buryatsky”).  Writing in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan point out that the attacks of March 29 would have taken a great of time to plan and prepare, and are thus unlikely to have been a direct response to recent events.

– As long ago as early July 2009 Caucasus Emirate “amir” Dokka Umarov gave a telephone interview to the Czech-based NGO Prague Watchdog in which he suggested that the Emirate’s forces would begin to target Russian civilians beyond the North Caucasus region.

– Yesterday’s attacks were the second suicide bombing in Russia this year, and the 15th since the start of 2009.

– No one has so far claimed responsibility for the March 29 attacks.