Echoing Moscow attack, Dagestan bombings underscore Russia's terrorism threat

In Russia's restive republic of Dagestan, bombings killed 12 people and injured 23 just two days after the devastating Moscow attack.

Zaur halikov/NewsTeam/AP
Emergency Ministry and police officers examine the site of an explosion, two suicide bombers killed at least 12 people and injured 23, in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, Wednesday.

Two suicide bombers, one disguised as a policeman, killed at least 12 people and injured 23 in attacks against Russian security forces in the turbulent southern republic of Dagestan Wednesday.

Bombings, murders, and gunfights between authorities and a rising extremist insurgency on Russia's seething southern flank have become so common in recent months that even Russian media might have scarcely noticed Wednesday's attacks, had it not been for a pair of devastating terrorists strikes in the Russian capital Moscow on Monday that killed 39 people and riveted the world's attention on Russia's growing terrorist problem.

"In the northern Caucasus, terrorist acts like this have been routine for the past several years," says Pavel Salin, an expert with the independent Institute of Political Conjuncture in Moscow.

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"It hasn't stopped for a moment, though it is growing worse," he says.

Target: security forces

The blasts in Kizlyar, near Dagestan's border with Chechnya, occurred when police gave chase to a suspicious car that was headed for the town center.

According to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, the car detonated right near a police headquarters. "Traffic police followed the car and almost caught up – at that time the blast hit," Mr. Nurgaliyev said.

A second powerful explosion hit about 20 minutes later, after a crowd had gathered at the site of the first attack, killing several officers, including Kizlyar's police chief. The second bomber was disguised as a police officer, he said.

Attacks ‘coming to their cities’

A wave of terrorism swept Russia's heartland early in the decade, after Russia invaded the separatist republic of Chechnya in 1999. But big Russian cities have been spared serious attacks for about six years, and most Russians have ignored the escalating jihadist insurgency that has been surging across the north Caucasus, a cluster of mainly Muslim republics that sprawl along the mountain line from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

But last month, the surviving Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov warned that his forces' "zone of military operations will be extended to the territory of Russia... the war is coming to their cities."

That threat materialized Monday. Security officials allege that it was a pair of Chechen female suicide bombers who hit two key stations in Moscow's crowded metro system at the height of morning rush hour.

Tough talk returns

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was credited with crushing the Chechen rebellion and bringing years of peace to Russia's heartland, reverted to his former tough-talking style by pledging to "scrape from the sewers" those responsible.

"This is a big challenge for Putin, whose whole legacy and personal myth is bound up with the claim that he brought stability to the north Caucasus and ended the terrorist threat to Russia," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

"Now it looks like the Kremlin is left with few options. They need to take vigorous action, but it's not so clear what to do."

IN PICTURES: Bombings in Russia

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