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Russia train bombing: sign of new terror tactics?

Russia analysts say security forces are unprepared for terror attacks, like Friday's train bombing, executed by small terrorist cells.

By Correspondent / November 30, 2009

An officer of the Interior Ministry keeps watch at the site of the Nevsky Express train derailment near the Russian village of Uglovk, northwest of Moscow, on Saturday.

Konstantin Chalabov/Reuters

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MOSCOW – The worst terrorist attack to hit the Russian heartland in five years was almost certainly engineered by Islamist extremists, who are increasingly active in Russia’s volatile northern Caucasus region, say analysts.

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On Friday, a luxury train, the Nevsky Express that runs between Moscow and St. Petersburg, was derailed by a bomb, killing at least 25 people and injuring almost 100.

Russian security experts say security forces here are not prepared for this new form of terrorism.

“It seems most likely that this attack can be traced to the northern Caucasus,” says Yury Korgunyuk, an expert with the InDem Foundation in Moscow, an independent think tank.

“This explodes the official myth that the problems down there have been ‘sorted out’ and that terrorism has been finally dealt with. The fact is that our security forces have been engaged in everything but combating terrorism,” he adds.

Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, an Internet journal that reports on security issues (an English-language version is here) says that Russia’s security forces, at great cost, did manage to crush the large-scale terrorist operations mounted by Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, such as the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater, and the 2004 Beslan school assault, in which scores of terrorist commandos sometimes moved hundreds of miles to hit their targets.

But, he says, like generals preparing for the last war, Russian security services remain fixated on preventing big, spectacular attacks like those of the recent past, instead of preparing for smaller-scale strikes at targets of opportunity, such as the bombings of the Nevsky Express.

“We see new modus operandi taking shape, in which tiny cells of terrorists of 3 to 5 people plan and execute acts of sabotage,” he says. “But our security forces have militarized this problem, and are not set up to deal with small threats like that. The main agency dealing with anti-terrorism is the Interior Ministry, which basically operates an internal army. They are in no way ready for what may be coming,” he says.

As if to underscore that point, another bomb went off Monday in the southern republic of Dagestan, striking an international train traveling from Tyumen, in Siberia, to Baku in Azerbaijan. No one was injured in that blast, but some analysts say there are clear signs that terrorists, who have never ceased operations amid turbulent Caucasus republics like Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya, may be preparing to resume more ambitious attacks upon Russia.

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