News / Europe

Moscow Airport Bomber from Russia's Muslim South

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James Brooke

Russian news agencies report that the suicide bomber at Moscow's airport was from Ingushetia, one of Russia's three so-called Green Republics, where Islamic extremists seek to impose Sharia law.

Citing security officials, Russian news agencies report that Magomed Yevloyev, 20, a resident of Ingushetia, set off the massive bomb that killed 36 people and wounded 168 at Moscow's busiest airport.

Russian security officials have not publicly released the identity of the suicide bomber. Russian reporters who visited Yevkoyev's home village reported that the young man had disappeared last August.  They said that last week security officials interviewed his parents, a school teacher and a retiree, and took DNA samples.

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service, said Thursday that tests of the bomber's remains showed that he was heavily drugged.  In a televised meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev, Bortnikov said: "A huge amount of highly potent narcotic and psychotropic substances in parts of the suicide bomber's body"

He added that police detained several suspects who have information about the airport bombing and a separate attempt to set off a bomb amidst crowds of revelers on Moscow's Red Square on New Year's Eve.

The Ingush connection came days after the Republic's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told visiting reporters that terrorism was down in the republic, part of Russia's predominantly Islamic Caucasus region.

The president, the victim of a car bombing 18 months ago, said that terror attacks were down in the republic. He cautioned that it was too early to claim victory.  He estimated that the number of active rebels in the republic had dwindled to 30.

Ingushetia's prosecutor Yuri Turigin agreed.  After reeling off statistics that indicated an improvement, he added that there was a significant drop in young men "going into the forest," as joining the insurgency is called here.

But in face of this cautious optimism, police on Thursday discovered a bomb making factory, only 10 kilometers from Ingushetia's highly guarded administrative center.

Also on Thursday, the Kremlin's top envoy to the Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, warned that average age of young men joining the insurgency has dropped to 18. Easy recruits for extremism, these men graduate from high school and face the choice of fighting for a job in local economies where the unemployment rate is often 50 percent, or migrating to central Russia where police harassment of labor migrants from the Caucasus is common.

Slide show reflecting on the culture of Ingushetia Republic

Khloponin, sometimes called Moscow's viceroy for the Caucasus, estimated that there are now about 1,000 active rebels operating in a region about the size of Greece.

Hours after he spoke, armed men in one part of the Caucasus ambushed a police convoy, killed three policemen and freed a prisoner.  In a nearby region, gunmen invaded a café and shot four traffic policemen dead.

Tamerlan Akiev, head of the Memorial human rights office in Ingushetia, said that young people in the Caucasus are easy recruits for the violence.  Without jobs or marriage prospects, they fall prey to the call of creating an Islamic emirate under Sharia law.

To preempt the fundamentalists, Caucasus leaders are adopting increasingly austere rules.  On Thursday, Chechnya's mufti, or spiritual leader, called on women to wear modest dress in public.  He defined this as dressing where only the hands and face are visible.

With head scarves common and alcohol bans in place, a cultural divide is growing between Russia's Slavic Christian core and the 'Green Republics' on the nation's southern edge.

Last month, the Levada center conducted a nationwide poll of Russian public.  Taken before the January 24 airport bombing, the poll found that Chechen militants topped the United States and NATO as the top threat held by Russians.

Almost half of respondents supported the slogan "Russia for Russians," a code phrase for curbing labor migrants from the Islamic south.

In Ingushetia, Ramzan Ugurchiev worries that Russians are demonizing the Caucasus. As a leader of the republic's youth parliament, he fears that, in an election year, the Kremlin is letting Russia's nationalist genie out of the bottle.

He says that politicians are courting votes by blaming all of Russia's problems on the Caucasus. One year from now, when Russia's parliamentary and presidential elections are behind us, he says, it may be hard to bind together again Russia's Christian North and its Muslim South.

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