Suicide bombers hit Russia, kill 31, wound over 100. Chechen rebel leader calls for Olympic attacks.

(photo credit: CNN)

(photo credit: CNN)

(Washington, D.C.) — “Two suicide bombings in as many days have killed 31 people and raised concerns that Islamic militants have begun a terrorist campaign in Russia that could stretch into the Sochi Olympics in February,” reports the Associated Press. “Russian and international Olympic officials insisted the site of the games, protected by layers of security, is completely safe.”

The AP noted that “suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but the insurgents seeking to create an Islamic state have largely confined their attacks to the North Caucasus region in recent years. The blasts in Volgograd signaled that militants want to show their reach outside their native region. Matthew Clements, an analyst at Jane’s, said Caucasus militants could be targeting major transportation hubs like Volgograd to embarrass the Kremlin and discourage attendance at the Feb. 7-23 Olympics.”

“The attack demonstrates the militants’ capability to strike at soft targets such as transport infrastructure outside of their usual area of operations in the North Caucasus,” he said in a note. “Although the very strict security measures which will be in place at the Sochi Games will make it difficult to undertake a successful attack against the main Olympic venues, public transport infrastructure in Sochi and the surrounding Krasnodar territory will face an elevated risk of attack.”

“Suicide bombers at a train station and on a trolleybus killed more than 30 people within 24 hours in the southern city of Volgograd, raising the security threat less than six weeks before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics,” reports Bloomberg news service.

“At least 14 people died and 27 others were injured when a man detonated a bomb in the trolleybus during rush hour after 8:10 a.m. local time, the Health Ministry said on its website,” Bloomberg noted. “The blast yesterday near a metal detector at the entrance to the city’s train station killed 17 people and injured 45 others, according to the ministry. The twin bombings come as Russia prepares to stage the Olympics in February in Sochi, a Black Sea resort close to the violence-wracked North Caucasus region. Volgograd, which suffered another suicide bombing on a bus in October, is about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northeast of Sochi.”

“If another attack happens closer to Sochi, it will be a catastrophe for the Olympics,” Alexei Malashenko, an analyst on the North Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said by phone, Bloomberg reported. “Three bombings in the space of three months means that terrorist activity is becoming systematic.”

The article added that “President Vladimir Putin’s government, which will seal off Sochi, a city of 345,000 people, had planned to beef up security starting on Jan. 7, a month before the games start, according to the state-run news service RIA Novosti.”

Other key points in the Bloomberg article:

  • In July, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who has said he was behind at least three of Russia’s deadliest terror attacks, called on militants to target the Sochi Olympics.
  • Umarov claimed responsibility for organizing the January 2011 suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport that killed 37 people. The self-styled emir of a pan-North Caucasus Islamic state also said he planned the attacks on the capital’s subway system by female suicide bombers in March 2010 that killed 40 people and the November 2009 bombing of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg that killed 28.
  • Russian forces killed an ally of Umarov on Dec. 28 in Dagestan, RIA reported. The Foreign Ministry blamed calls from militant leaders including Umarov for inciting the attacks.
  • About 400 Russian Islamic radicals, mainly from the North Caucasus, are currently battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria and their return poses a “big threat,” Sergei Smirnov, deputy director of the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, said in September.