A suicide bomber plowed a car laden with explosives into a police station in Russia’s north Caucasus region Wednesday, killing six police officers and wounding 14. The attack comes just days after police took down Al Qaeda’s appointed 'Amir' in the region.
The violence, which took place in the Muslim majority republic of Dagestan, underscores that an Islamist-led insurgency in the Caucasus area has escalated sharply, possibly threatening to penetrate the Russian heartland. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has called it Russia’s single biggest domestic problem, according to Reuters.
The attack is also worrying because it seems to showcase yet again the capacity of Al Qaeda’s affiliates to strike targets around the globe.
For the past decade, Russia has struggled to contain flaring uprisings in its Muslim majority North Caucasus republics, namely Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. In those areas, poverty and strong-handed government crackdowns have created wide support for Islamist insurgents.
Dagestan, a mountainous republic rich in oil and gas reserves, is nestled on the Caspian Sea. Since the late 1990s it has been the staging ground for a growing conflict between government security forces and Islamist rebels clamoring for an independent state based on Islamic law, reports the BBC. (See map of the area from the BBC here.)
As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. But it may have been a retaliatory strike, coming close on the heels of a police raid conducted on New Year’s Eve. The raid, undertaken in Dagestan by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, was significant because it helped underscore the seriousness of the problem: Among four militants killed was Umalat Magomedov, whom Al Qaeda had appointed as its Amir in Dagestan, reports RT, a Russian news service.
Mr. Magomedov’s group is held responsible for a bloody campaign of violence: In June, Dagestan’s Interior Minister was shot dead, while in the same month the president of the republic narrowly escaped a suicide attack on his motorcade, reports Russia’s Ria Novosti news outlet. In August, a suicide bombing at a police station in Ingushetia killed at least 24 people, while another suicide strike on a police station wounded 16 people in mid December, the Associated Press adds.
Magomedov’s group is not only lethal, but allegedly flush with cash. Inside notebooks seized after the New Year’s Eve raid, police found financial registers laying out the global scope of Magomedov’s support network. Russian state television recently reported that militants have received funding from as far away as Turkey, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, and supporters in Saudi Arabia, Agence France-Presse adds.
The violence in Dagestan helps to further a perception that Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain committed and capable of striking targets around the world, despite the concerted effort of the US and its allies to thwart them. The Wall Street Journal recently warned about that decentralized lethality, and though it did not mention Al Qaeda in Dagestan specifically, Magomedov’s group fits the same mold:
U.S. and allied-government officials have claimed significant progress against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq recently. But the group appears able to nimbly deploy forces to places where international military pressure isn't as concentrated or has eased.
The Christian Science Monitor