ROAR: Militants’ “hallmark” seen in Pyatigorsk blast

As police investigate two blasts set off on August 17 in southern Russia, some analysts assume different groups in the North Caucasus could have been behind the latest explosions.

At least 29 people have been injured in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk when

an open explosive device

planted in a car went off near a cafe on the busy Kirov Street.

Earlier on the same day, a suicide bomber set off an explosive device on himself near a traffic police checkpoint on the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, killing one road policeman and injuring two others.

The Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office is considering all possible theories behind the Pyatigorsk attack, but the main one is an act of terrorism. A criminal investigation was opened under three Criminal Code articles dealing with terrorism, attempted murder, and the illegal trafficking of explosives, Interfax quoted Vladimir Markin, the committee’s spokesman, as saying.

Militants active in the North Caucasus are believed to be behind the blast in Pyatigorsk as it was “their hallmark,” sources in law enforcement agencies told Interfax.

Pyatigorsk, the city in Russia’s southern Stavropol Region, is the administrative center of the North Caucasian Federal District created by President Dmitry Medvedev on January 19. The head of the state also appointed former Krasnoyarsk Region governor Aleksandr Khloponin deputy prime minister and his envoy in the district.

“Terrorists visited Aleksandr Khloponin’s city,” Vremya Novostey daily wrote. Two huge terrorist acts took place on one day in the North Caucasus, the paper noted in an article titled “The TNT capital.”

“It is unclear if the two crimes are connected to each other,” the daily said. “Initially, the authorities did not pay much attention to the incident on the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, and considered it an ordinary militant attack. It was not qualified at all as terrorism, but as an attempt on law enforcement officers.”

“The events in Pyatigorsk triggered a much more painful reaction from the federal center,” the paper said. “President Medvedev immediately ordered the leadership of the Federal Security Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office to thoroughly investigate the explosion. Minister of Health and Social Development Tatyana Golikova and governor of Stavropol Region Valery Gaevsky were also ordered to take all possible steps to help the injured.”

The explosion was equivalent to 30-40 kilograms of TNT, police said. “It is clear it was an explosive device, and not one kilogram; there were dozens of kilograms,” Gaevsky was quoted by Vremya Novostey as saying. Luckily, the device did not contain any shrapnel, Gaevsky added.

Since the end of last year militants have started to actively use suicide bombers in terrorist acts, the paper said. “And not only in the North Caucasus, but also in Moscow, where in March two female suicide bombers staged explosions on the Moscow Metro,” the paper said.

“Since June the situation seemed to have calmed down, but it did not last long,” it said. “The latest similar terrorist act took place in the end of June in Chechnya where a suicide bomber blew himself up surrounded by police near Teatralnaya Square in Grozny. Two policemen and two passers-by were injured.”

On August 17, another incident took place in Dagestan. Police officers tried to stop a car when the passengers inside opened fire. In the exchange of gunfire two militants were killed, and one policeman and two passers-by were injured.

Since the Pyatigorsk blast, police are searching for 42-year-old Aleksandr Kim, born in the Chechen republic, media say. The main suspect had allegedly used the car that was blown up near the cafe. He has disappeared from the city.

Some news outlets assumed that militant leader Doku Umarov might have organized the attack in Pyatigorsk. Thus, he could have tried to raise his authority after a reported split among militants.

Umarov is Russia’s most wanted man. He took responsibility for masterminding the deadly Moscow Metro bombings in March. The US also recently designated Umarov as a terrorist.

This theory has the right to exist as others, believes Anatoly Safonov, the Russian President's special representative for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime. “However, the theory that the terrorist act had been planned long before the split may also exist,” he told RIA Novosti.

Rivalry between the militant groups could be an explainable reason for the latest series of terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus, said Aleksandr Torshin, first deputy speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the parliament.

After Umarov said he “was quitting” and “then said that he was not going to quit,” a competition could have started among militants, Torshin told Interfax. “Those who are no longer influenced by Umarov have an urgent need to make a statement through staging a high-profile terrorist attack,” the deputy noted.

The crimes in North Ossetia and Stavropol Region involve different methods, Torshin noted. The first attack was aimed against law enforcement services, “while the blast in Pyatigorsk was supposed to be a landmark terror act,” he said.

Meanwhile, most Russians expect the situation in the North Caucasus to remain tense, a poll conducted by the Levada Center in the end of June showed. Only 14% of respondents said the situation may improve within the next year, with 15% making pessimistic forecasts. More than 70% describe the situation in the North Caucasus as “tense” and “danger prone” and 16% believe it is “good” or “calm.”

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT