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Terror Returns to Russia: What Will Putin Do? (Updated)

Last Friday’s terror attack on a Russian train was international news. The Kremlin hates to look weak. (Update: Putin says no plans to leave power.)

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

December 3, 2009 - 12:13 am
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(Update: Shortly before this article published, Vladimir Putin held his annual Q&A with Russian reporters. When asked about last week’s IED attack on the train, and the Islamic terrorists who have now claimed responsibility, Putin promised to “break the spine” of terrorism. When asked if he was planning on leaving office anytime soon, Putin responded, “Don’t hold your breath.”)

It has been years since terrorists were able to strike Russia anywhere outside the Muslim North Caucasus region, where terrorists train and suicide bombings are commonplace. That changed on November 27, when an IED attack on the Nevsky Express, a luxury Moscow-to-St. Petersburg commuter train, left 30 people dead and about 100 more injured. The explosion happened 250 miles northwest of Moscow on a train popular with business executives, government officials, and tourists. At least two high-ranking Russian officials were among the dead.

Now that Moscow is again in the terrorists’ crosshairs, the question on everyone’s mind is: how will the Russian government respond?

“Everyone’s nerves are at the limit,” President Dmitry Medvedev announced on state TV. So what will Putin do?

This same train had been targeted by terrorists two years ago, in August 2007. In that instance, no one was killed. Sixty people were injured, six seriously, in a very close call. The IED in that attack exploded adjacent to a 60-foot bridge, and the train just barely cleared the bridge before it derailed. This time, the terrorists planted two bombs. According to Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, officers found pieces of a second device, partially exploded, during rescue operations.

The North Caucasus has long been a safe haven for terrorists. Most notably, in the late 1990s, the region produced master terrorist Shamil Basayev, al-Qaeda’s Russian proxy and the man responsible for killing hundreds of Russian civilians before he was assassinated by the Russian Federal Security Service in 2006. Shamil Basayev was behind the Moscow theater siege in 2002, the three-day school siege at Beslan in 2005, and a hospital siege in 1995. In those three attacks alone, nearly 2,000 people were taken hostage by terrorists acting on Basayev’s orders. In total, more than 540 people died, including 184 schoolchildren in Beslan. For years, the Kremlin couldn’t stop his attacks.

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