MOSCOW (WaPo)– Two suicide bombers, including one wearing a police uniform, killed at least a dozen people Wednesday in a coordinated attack in Russia’svolatile North Caucasus region, authorities said, just two days after a pair of female bombers struck the Moscow subway system and raised fears of a fresh wave of terrorism in the country.
The explosions, which also injured at least 23 people, took place in Dagestan, the province east of Chechnya, where militants linked to an Islamist insurgency in the region have stepped up attacks over the past year and where shootings and bombings occur almost daily.
Officials said the first blast occurred as traffic police approached the bomber’s car in the town of Kizlyar, near the Chechen border. As investigators and onlookers gathered, a second bomber wearing a police uniform pushed through the crowd and set off another explosion. Nine police officers were among the dead, including the town’s police chief, authorities said.
In televised remarks, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the attack may have been committed by “the same gang” responsible for the double bombing in Moscow, which killed 39 people and injured more than 70 others.
“It does not matter for us in what part of the country these crimes have been committed, or who — people of what ethnicity or religion — have fallen victim to these crimes,” Putin said, ordering police reinforcements in the North Caucasus. “We see this as a crime against Russia.”
Although no one has claimed responsibility for either attack, investigators have said they believe the two women who bombed the Moscow subway stations Monday were tied to the separatist insurgency in the North Caucasus, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Caucasus Emirate in the region.
The attack was the first in Moscow in nearly six years and raised questions about Putin’s record of maintaining peace in the capital, as well as his brute-force approach to suppressing the militants.
President Dmitry Medvedev, the longtime Putin ally who succeeded him in the Kremlin two years ago, has pushed for a more balanced strategy in the North Caucasus, appointing officials there who have sought to improve economic conditions, open talks with critics and draw public support away from the rebels.
“The terrorists want to destabilize the situation in the country, to destroy civil society, and are driven by the desire to sow fear and panic among people. We will not let this happen,” Medvedev said at a session of the Russian Security Council. He described the attacks in Moscow and Dagestan as “links of the same chain” and ordered an overhaul of security on the nation’s transport systems within four months.
Gulnara Rustamova, head of the Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, an advocacy group, said conditions in the province seemed to have been improving since Medvedev appointed a new governor, Magomedsalam Magomedov, last month. Wednesday’s attack, she said, may have been intended to undermine his efforts.
“I hope he has the wisdom and enough strength to take the right steps and to continue building the dialogue in society,” she said. “We are all so sick and tired of all these terrorist acts and unlawful murders. We want to live in peace and to be safe.”
Rustamova said she believed the attacks were organized by outsiders “who want to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus.”