A suicide bomber struck the main railway station in Volgograd Dec. 29, 2013, killing 17 and wounding many more, some critically. The following day, another suicide bomb went off on a trolleybus, killing 15.
Russian officials said the attacks are a grim reminder of terrorist threats the country is facing as it prepares to host February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, which came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Winter Olympics. Officials believe the attacks are related.
Suicide bombings have occurred in Russia for a long time, but many have taken place in the Caucasus, the center of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. According to news reports, until recently, Volgograd (formerly known as Stalingrad) was not a typical target, but the city has now been struck three times this year. In October, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Officials said attacker came from the province of Dagestan, which has become the center of the Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region after two separatist wars in Chechnya.
The railway station bomber detonated explosives in front of a metal detector just beyond the station’s main entrance when a police sergeant became suspicious and moved to confront the individual, who has not been identified. The officer was killed by the blast, and several other policemen were wounded. The bomb contained about 22 pounds of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel. Security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed.
Lifenews.ru, a Russian news portal that reportedly has close links to security agencies, said the railway station attacker appears to have been a woman whose two successive rebel husbands had been killed by Russian security forces in the Caucasus. Female suicide bombers, many of whom were widows or sisters of rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia. They often have been referred to as “black widows.”
“Russia has been engaged in an enduring and violent struggle with extremists ever since it defeated a separatist movement in Chechnya in the 1990s,” the Washington Post reported. “After the war ended, a growing number of separatists turned radical, evolving into Islamic extremists who have launched sporadic terrorist attacks from Moscow to the country’s hinterlands. They have also carried out a low-grade battle with authorities that is centered in the southern region of Dagestan, inflicting casualties among Russian interior forces that are more numerous than the U.S. military suffers in Afghanistan.”
Volgograd, which borders the Caucasus, is 550 miles south of Moscow and about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.