Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Southern Russian City of Volgograd Hit By Multiple Suicide Bombings

At least 30 people were killed in back to back bombings on Sunday and Monday that targeted public transportation in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. Russian officials believe the bomb blasts were carried out by suicide bombers in the city's railway station on Sunday and a municipal trolleybus on Monday.
The explosion ripped away much of the bus's exterior and broke windows in nearby buildings. The BBC reported that the explosion took place near a market in the city's Dzerzhinsky district. It virtually paralyzed public transport in the city, forcing many residents to walk long distances to get to work.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia's main investigative agency, said Monday's explosion involved a bomb similar to the one used in Sunday's attack.

"That confirms the investigators' version that the two terror attacks were linked," Markin said in a statement. "They could have been prepared in one place."

The Interior Ministry ordered police to beef up patrols at railway stations and other transport facilities across Russia. Putin on Monday summoned the chief of the main KGB successor agency and the interior minister to discuss the situation, and sent the former to Volgograd to oversee the probe.
CCTV cameras outside the building recorded images of the train station bombing that is said to have killed 18 and injured another 44 people. Russian security officials are reportedly attempting to piece together images from cameras inside the station.

Volgograd- known as Stalingrad during Soviet times- is an industrial and transport hub some 900 miles south of Moscow and 1000 km northeast of Sochi, site of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics next month. Some of the deadliest fighting in WWII took place in Stalingrad when the beleaguered Red Army halted the advance of Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht in early 1943. Volgograd is also one of the closer metropolitan areas to strife-torn regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya where Islamist fighters have been conducting attacks against Russian troops and civilians since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Dagestan and Chechnya are both considered fertile recruiting grounds for battle-hardened Islamic terrorists to fight in Afghanistan or Syria. The two brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing and deadly ambush of an MIT Campus police officer were originally from Chechnya. Besides ongoing fighting over Islamists and pro-Kremlin forces in the Transcaucus region, Russia has earned the ire of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for Moscow's direct military aid and support of Syrian president Bashr Al-Assad in the midst of a prolonged civil war.

In August 2013, the UK's Telegraph reported that the Saudis had secretly offered Russia a deal in which the Saudis proposed to cede most of the global oil and gas market to the Russians if they agreed to abandon the Assad regime in Syria. According to the article and reports in the Russian and Lebanese media, the Saudis also promised the Kremlin a tacit deal with Chechen fighters where they wouldn't attack the Sochi Winter Olympics should Russia abandon Assad.
The details of the talks were first leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hezbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.

As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.

Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. “These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”

Some observers believe the Volgograd attacks on Sunday and Monday- as well as an October 21st suicide bombing carried out by a Chechen 'black widow' in the same oblast- could be considered a 'dry run' for even deadlier attacks against athletes, officials and attendees at the Sochi Winter Olympics next month. The attacks also come roughly a week before the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas.

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