Briefing: Who blew up the Moscow metro – and why?

Russian police Moscow Metro map

At least 38 people died when two suicide bombers hit the Moscow underground

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 10:13 ON Mon 29 Mar 2010

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings which killed at least 38 people this morning on the Moscow metro. However, the fact the terrorists were female, and Russia's long-standing involvement in the brutal suppression of a separatist movement in its North Caucasus federal republic of Chechnya, suggests the ultimate sponsor of the attacks is the Islamist Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov.

Isn't the Chechen war over?Yes, but a guerrilla war continues. Russia's then-president Vladimir Putin put down the Chechen rebellion in a war that lasted from 1999 to 2000, reversing their loss of the territory in an earlier war in the 1990s. Putin installed former Chechen rebels as leaders in order to give the country a veneer of autonomy.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the current president, is a 33-year-old former militant who has used ruthless oppression, alleged assassination and torture to bring a semblance of stability to the war-torn country.

His limited success - Russian president Dmitry Medvedev lifted the state of emergency in Chechnya last April - has had the unfortunate side-effect of displacing militants to Russia's other troubled, Muslim-majority North Caucasian federal republics, such as Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Meanwhile, the Chechen separatist movement, under its leader Doku Umarov, has become even more radicalised.

Who is Doku Umarov?Dokka Abu Usman, to give him his Arabic name, is the current leader of Chechnya's Islamist rebels. In 2006 he was proclaimed the president of Ichkeria - the Chechen separatist name for Chechnya. Under his reign, the rebel movement's goals have become somewhat more grandiose than the mere establishment of an independent 'Ichkeria' - suggesting that Russia's uncompromising stance on Chechnya may have made matters worse.

In October 2007, Umarov proclaimed himself emir of the Caucasus Emirate, which includes "Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Ossetia, the Nogay steppe and the combined areas of Kabardino-Balkana and Karachay-Cherkessia". These are all either Russian federal republics or under Russian control. The emirate is to be under sharia law and non-Muslims will be expelled.

Despite this detailed statement of aims, Umarov left the final boundaries open to interpretation, saying: "I do not believe it is necessary to draw the borders of the Caucasus Emirate."

Are female suicide bombers new in Russia?No. Chechen women were involved in hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre in 2002 and a school in Beslan, North Ossetia in 2004: both sieges ended in terrible loss of life. Two women also blew themselves up at an open-air music festival in Moscow in 2003 and in 2004, a woman perpetrated the last suicide attack on the Moscow metro, which killed 10 people.

Why are so many women involved in Chechen separatism?During the 15 years of occupation between 1994 and 2009, Russian and Chechen forces are alleged to have committed various war crimes, including rape and murder. Two of the women involved in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege were said to have been sisters gang-raped by Russian soldiers, while the war has made widows of many women or robbed them of their male relatives.

These 'black widows', as the Russian FSB (the successor to the KGB) calls them, often have little prospect of marriage or any kind of normal life, making them easy targets for radicalisation by Islamist separatists.

Why now?Russian forces have eliminated a number of Islamic militant leaders in the North Caucasus recently, including Anzor Astemirov - the man who took credit for the idea of a Caucasus Emirate - last week in Kabardino-Balkaria. Today's attack could be revenge for that, but it is more likely it has been longer in the planning. In February Doku Umarov said: "The zone of military operations will be extended to the territory of Russia... the war is coming to their cities". · 

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