ROAR: “Breach of the antiterrorist defense”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Analysts are considering different scenarios behind the derailment of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg due to a bomb blast on November 27.

The two main theories are the involvement of militants from the North Caucasus and Russian nationalists. At the same time, other theories are being considered too.

“The Caucasus factor” is important, but questionable, believes Aleksandr Gurov, member of the security committee of the State Duma from the United Russia party. The deputy explained this by the fact that “all is quiet now in Chechnya – only clans in Dagestan and Ingushetia are fighting against each other.” In addition, “if we go back to the time of combat operations in Chechnya, militants never destroyed railways,” Gurov told Rosbalt news agency.

The second theory about the nationalists also lacks logic, Gurov said. “Maybe someone needs this theory, but nationalists were unlikely to go the length of doing this,” he said. “It is dangerous for nationalists first of all to blow up their own people, and everyone who understands their psychology knows it,” he added.

Gurov also mentioned the third theory about an attempt on the lives of “certain passengers on the train.” He added that the organizers of the terrorist act could have “personal motives, including revenge.”

Echoing the theory about “personal motives,” website reported that a case with 1.5 kg of heroin has been allegedly found in the derailed Nevsky Express.

However, most analysts speak about the political motivations of those who organized and committed the crime. Terrorists deliberately chose such an out-of-the-way place for derailing the train, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg Anatoly Bashkirev told BaltInfo news agency. “They predicted that it would be difficult for medics and rescuers to get to the place of the train crash,” he said.

The latest derailment reminded many of another one that occurred on the same Nevsky Express route near the town of Malaya Vishera in the Novgorod region on August 13, 2007, when 60 people were injured. Prosecutors said that the terrorist act had been committed then by a group of militants led by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov.

In October 2007, Salambek Dzakhiev and Maksharip Khidriev from Ingushetia were accused of delivering explosives to the place of the derailment. Pavel Kosolapov, a former Russian soldier who converted to Islam, is still wanted by police as an organizer of that crime.

Some observers describe him as a man who could be behind the latest terrorist act. They stress that Khidriev on November 25 confessed during court hearings that he had delivered explosives for the terrorist act in August 2007. Dzakiev said he was not guilty.

This time, Umarov can claim responsibility “because he badly needs PR,” Gazeta daily said. On November 24, 2009, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that Umarov was hiding in the mountains and losing his followers. Kadyrov also “promised to catch or eliminate Umarov during the next few months,” the paper said. But now “the derailment of Nevsky Express between the two capitals should demonstrate the strength of Wahhabism,” the daily added.

Analysts also pay attention to the date when the terrorist act was committed – the celebration of Kurban Bayram, one of the most important Muslim holidays. “Leaders of militants are inclined to time their most significant terrorist acts to well-known dates,” Gazeta said.

At the same time, the theory about the possible involvement of Russian nationalists is also widely circulated in the media. They recall that on June 12, 2005, another holiday – Russia Day – a train traveling to Moscow from the Chechen capital Grozny was derailed in the Moscow Region.

Fortunately, no one was killed then, though some people were injured. Russian nationalists Vladimir Vlasov and Mikhail Klevachev were detained and sentenced to 18 and 19 years respectively. The court said the crime was based on nationalist motives and was committed “to frighten people of non-Slavic nationality.”

Now, a little-known nationalist group called “Combat 18” claimed responsibility for derailing the train. Earlier there were reports on nationalist websites that the same group had claimed responsibility for planting explosives in the metro in St. Petersburg. On November 14, a hoax explosive device with a swastika was found there.

Sources in law enforcement agencies called the statements of people acting on behalf of Combat 18 “a provocation,” website said. According to its sources, the organization ceased to exist in 2007, when “its organizer, leader and in fact the only member Maksim Martsinkevich had been detained in Moscow,” the website said, adding that in January he was sentenced to three and a half years.

It is possible that someone “used the name of the group to distract attention from the actual organizers,” the website quoted the source as saying.

Another source in the Interior Ministry told Kommersant daily that the “actions of nationalists, as a rule, are aimed against concrete figures.” But this derailment was directed “first of all, against Slavs, the support of which nationalists seek.”

Leader of the nationalist movement against illegal immigration Aleksandr Belov told the daily: “A user of an online forum in St. Petersburg floated the theory that a certain Combat 18 group could be linked to the threat of explosion in the metro. When the train was derailed, another user published the name of the group in his blog, reporting that Combat 18 is involved in derailing the Nevsky Express too. Thus, the rumor has emerged.” According to Belov, Combat 18 is “a kind of internet community without any real strength.”

At the same time, Kommersant stressed that, according to specialists, “the method of the terrorist act evidences that it was committed by people who had been specially trained and had the experience of combat operations.” The second bomb that exploded when investigators were at the scene showed that it might be “the so-called method of double explosion.” the paper said. “It has lately become characteristic of militants acting in the North Caucasus,” the daily quoted a source as saying.

As for Kosolapov, the Kommersant’s source in law enforcement agencies said that the investigation has just started, and “we cannot say whether he was involved or not in the recent terrorist act.” However, the source stressed that “if the same people have committed this and the previous derailments of the Nevsky Express, they had learned the lessons well.”

The terrorists “increased the charge of explosives and chose the place where a train goes at the highest high speed, which guarantees the derailment of cars if the rails are destroyed,” the source said.

“Whether both derailments of the Nevsky Express were committed by the same people or not, the political consequences are evident,” Vremya Novostey daily said. “This explosion has become the largest terrorist act in five years in central Russia,” the paper stressed.

“It seemed that the authorities and special services had dealt a heavy blow to leaders of separatists in the North Caucasus, and the problem of a real terrorist threat was localized and limited by the borders of several Caucasus republics,” the paper said.

“The only exception was the derailment of the first Nevsky Express in 2007, but many considered it not as a terrorist act in the wider sense, but only as an attempt of it because a large tragedy was averted,” the daily added.

The last act can be fully considered as “a new breach of ‘the antiterrorist defense’ that had been built by the authorities,” the paper said. It also described the Moscow-St. Petersburg railway line as a strategic one. “The capital’s functions are being partly returned to St. Petersburg, and many natives of that city have lately occupied important posts in the state system,” the paper said.

“It is impossible to place day and night guard to defend all railways,” the paper said, adding that “the authorities will now face another difficult problem.”

Pavel Salin of the Center for Political Conjuncture also stressed the importance of the train. “The derailment of the Nevsky Express has been aimed at high-ranking officials who regularly use this mode of transport,” he said, referring to natives of St. Petersburg occupying important positions in the capital and traveling home at weekends. There was an attempt to “frighten the authorities,” the analyst said.

The media reported that Boris Yevstratikov, the head of the Russian State Reserves Agency, and Sergey Tarasov, a former senator from St. Petersburg, were among the dead after the Nevsky Express crash.

“The train on the same route has been chosen again because it travels at high speed and may cause more victims if derailed,” psychiatrist and investigator Mikhail Vinogradov believes. The terrorists could try to show that “the wrong people were detained in the previous case,” the analyst told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio.

The fact that the derailment occurred during the most important Muslim holiday also makes it possible to speak about the task of terrorists “to incite religious and ethnic hatred,” he said.

Deputy Head of the State Duma committee on security Gennady Gudkov believes that operative measures “that have been taken by the country’s leadership, are sufficient.” No new laws to counter terrorist activities or a parliament’s commission on investigation are necessary, he told Vedomosti daily.

National rail company Russian Railways has not scrapped plans to launch the first high speed train “Sapsan” between Moscow and St. Petersburg in December, nor has it decided to take the Nevsky Express out of service, the paper added.

Sergey Borisov, RT