Medvedev blames security lapse for Moscow blast

A combination of still images taken from a CCTV footage shows the arrival hall of Moscow's Domodedovo airport before (L) and after (R) an explosion, January 24, 2011. A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people at Russia's busiest airport on Monday, state TV said, in an attack on the capital that bore the hallmarks of militants fighting for an Islamist state in the North Caucasus region. REUTERS/Youtube via Reuters TV

MOSCOW, Jan 25 ( KATAKAMI.COM / Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev blamed airport managers on Tuesday for failing to stop an attack on Russia’s busiest international travel hub, saying security lapses had enabled a bomber to kill 35 people in a crowded arrivals hall.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, but the action bore hallmarks of militants fighting for an Islamist state in the North Caucasus region on Russia’s southern frontier.

“It’s obviously a terrorist act that was planned well in advance in order to cause the deaths of as many people as possible,” Medvedev said.

A woman pushes her luggage past flowers at a site of a blast at Domodedovo airport near Moscow on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, as others wait for a security check to enter. Security was tightened in Moscow on Tuesday, after a suicide bomber set off an explosion that ripped through Moscow's busiest airport on Monday. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

The blast ripped through the international arrivals area where travelers emerge after collecting their bags, causing carnage and filling the hall with smoke.

An Emergencies Ministry list of the dead included eight foreigners: two Britons, a German and citizens of Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

Medvedev said the management of Domodedovo Airport should answer for the attack, in which the bomber evaded security to carry the explosives into the airport’s arrival hall.

“What happened shows that there were clear security violations,” he said. He said airport security rules had been strengthened after bombers blew up two planes that took off from Domodedovo in 2004, killing 90 people.

“Unfortunately — we do have this misfortune — we far from always implement even the most important legislation.”

North Caucasus rebels have threatened attacks against cities and economic targets in the run-up to parliamentary elections this year and 2012 presidential polls. The choice of Domodedovo’s international arrivals area suggested the attackers wanted to achieve a wider impact beyond Russia’s borders.

Russia is to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, on the edge of the Caucasus, which some rebels consider part of the territory they aim to include in an Islamic state.

An investigator cited by news agency Itar-Tass said the attack was apparently carried out by a heavily built man aged 30 to 40. Other reports have given conflicting information, with some pointing to a female suicide bomber or two attackers.

Domodedovo Airport said it was not responsible for the blast. “The airport maintains that we should not be held accountable for the explosion, because, I repeat, we fully met all the requirements in the sphere of air transport security for which we are responsible,” spokeswoman Yelena Galanova said in televised comments.

Medvedev, who vowed to punish those behind the blasts, delayed his departure to the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, where he is to court foreign investment in Russia in his opening keynote speech at the WorldEconomic Forum on Wednesday.

Analysts said the attack could hamper Kremlin efforts to reform Russia’s energy-reliant economy, especially with elections approaching.

“The heightened threat to national security distracts top officials’ attention from other pressing issues, such as formulating the economic policy agenda for the next political cycle,” Moscow investment bank VTB Capital said in a note.

“It might also affect calculations for the 2011-12 election campaign,” the note read.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, conducts a religious service in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, for those who died in the explosion at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

 

NATIONALIST VIOLENCE

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the dominant partner in Russia’s ‘tandem’ leadership, built his early reputation as a strong leader by launching a war in late 1999 to crush a rebel government in Chechnya, a North Caucasus province.

That campaign achieved its immediate aim, but insurgency has spread to neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan and spawned persistent attacks beyond the North Caucasus.

Putin and Medvedev have vowed to crush the insurgents and poured money into the impoverished North Caucasus, but attacks have continued. Last March, two female suicide attackers from Dagestan killed 40 rush-hour commuters in Moscow’s metro.

Further attacks could increase pressure from hardliners on Putin to return to the presidency next year.

The spread of violence from the North Caucasus, where it is fed by a cocktail of corruption, poverty and clan rivalries as well as religious radicalism, fans Russian nationalist militancy in the heartland.

Tensions between ethnic Russians and the 20 million Muslims who make up one-seventh of Russia’s population flared dramatically last month in clashes including a riot by Russian nationalists who attacked passersby of non-Slavic appearance steps from the Kremlin, many of them from the North Caucasus.

On Tuesday police officers boosted their presence around railroad stations and airports, carrying out spot checks of people who looked as though they could be from the Caucasus.

The worst attack carried out by North Caucasus insurgents took place in 2004 when militants seized control of a school in the town of Beslan. When Russian troops stormed the building in an attempt to end a siege, 331 hostages, more than half of them children, were killed.  (*)

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