Nine days after the two explosions in the Moscow subway on March 29 that killed a total of 40 people, crucial questions remain unanswered.
Who recruited the two women suicide bombers? And how is one to reconcile the disavowal of responsibility for the bombings by a man claiming to be a spokesman for the North Caucasus insurgency with video footage in which self-styled North Caucasus emir Doku Umarov affirms that the attacks were carried out on his orders?
Early on March 31, two days after the attacks, the TV channel First Caucasus broadcast footage
of a man it identified as Umarov. Part of that footage was shot in snow-covered woodland; the speaker denied that any Chechens were responsibility for the Moscow attacks, affirming that they were the work of Russian special services. The man shown bore a superficial resemblance
to Umarov, but the voice was definitely not Umarov's.
Also on March 31, a man who identified himself as Shamsudin Batukayev, spokesman for the North Caucasus emirate, called Reuters
from Turkey and said, "We did not carry out the attack in Moscow, and we don't know who did it."
Just hours later, websites affiliated with the insurgency posted a video clip of Umarov, in which he affirms that the attacks were carried out on his orders. The authenticity of that video is open to question, however.
Specifically, it has been pointed out that Umarov is seen sitting among trees and luxuriant green grass, although spring foliage does not grow in the mountains of Chechnya as early as late March. More important, as in a clumsily dubbed movie, the audio of Umarov's speech is not coordinated
with his lip movements. Many earlier video clips of Umarov have been since removed from YouTube, making it impossible to determine with complete certainty whether or not the film footage was "recycled" with new sound.
Umarov's actual statement too raises several questions. Although he claims to be speaking on March 29, and says his listeners will by that time be aware that "two special operations directed against the unbelievers were carried out today in Moscow" on his orders, he does not specify the target: the city's subway system.
If he was not aware of those details, the question arises: is Umarov being manipulated, and if yes, by whom and why?
Moreover, Umarov states explicitly that those two operations were intended as retribution for the killings by security forces near the Chechen village of Arshty on February 11 of a group of impoverished Chechen men who made a living by gathering wild garlic for sale.
But if the Moscow attacks were intended as revenge for the killing of Chechens, why were the suicide bombers from Daghestan, not Chechnya?
The younger of the two women whom Russian security services subsequently identified as the perpetrators, Djennet Abdurakhmanova, was of mixed Azeri-Kumyk parentage, and grew up in the town of Khasavyurt in northern Daghestan, close to the border with Chechnya. She was reportedly
the widow of Umalat Magomedov (aka Al-Bara), one of the commanders of Daghestan's Shariat jamaat, who was killed in a shoot-out in Khasavyurt late on December 31.
In that respect, Abdurakhmanova fits the classic profile of earlier, mostly Chechen female suicide bombers who perpetrated terrorist attacks in the early years of the decade. That does not, however, rule out the possibility that she may have been the victim of a "false flag" recruitment.
The older woman, Maryam Sharipova, was a schoolteacher from the village of Balakhani in Untsukul Raion. According to her father, Rasul Magomedov (no relation to Umalat), she was with him and her mother in Makhachkala until at least midday on March 28, the day before the bombings. She called her parents on her mobile phone that afternoon to tell them she planned to visit a girlfriend; her father cannot comprehend how she surfaced in Moscow less than 24 hours later. (Russian media earlier reported that the two women travelled together by bus from the town of Kizlyar in Daghestan to Moscow, a 36-hour journey.)
Magomedov told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on April 6 that while a devout believer, Maryam never showed any sympathy for "extremist" views, and that she was an exceptionally gentle human being.
Magomedov also said
he asked his daughter whether earlier media reports identifying her as the wife of a second prominent Daghestani fighter, Magomedali Vagabov, were true, and she replied that she had no contacts whatsoever with the insurgency and would never have married without his permission.
The inconsistent statements attributed to Umarov and Batukayev, in conjunction with the mystery surrounding Sharipova's movements in the 24 hours before her death, have inevitably fuelled speculation whether Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) may have orchestrated the Moscow subway bombings in the same way as it allegedly did the explosions that destroyed apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in the late summer of 1999.
Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based head of the moderate Chechen Republic-Ichkeria (ChRI) government in exile, claimed in October 2007 to have information suggesting that the Russian authorities had suborned unnamed Chechens to persuade Umarov, then ChRI president, to abandon the cause of Chechen independence and proclaim himself emir of a North Caucasus emirate.
Zakayev suggested that the rationale behind those plans was to provide the Kremlin with a cast-iron pretext to deploy more forces to the North Caucasus under the pretext of fighting Al-Qaeda in order to deal the death blow to the idea of a secular, independent Chechnya and to continue its "genocide" of the region's peoples, "who are ever more actively defending their national and religious rights."
To that extent, Zakayev continued, Umarov's proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate would serve the same purpose as did the declaration in August 1999 of an independent Islamic state in Daghestan in triggering a new war in Chechnya. Zakayev further claimed that the Russian leadership allocated $500 million to implement "Operation Emirate," and that Russian intelligence operatives have met in an unnamed third country with Chechen representatives to secure their cooperation.
Zakayev's website, chechenpress.info, posted on October 27, 2007, what it claimed was Movladi Udugov's draft concept, dated February 2007, for the creation of an Islamic state.