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Islamist Militants Claim Responsibility For Deadly Russian Train Bombing

Doku Umarov during a meeting of rebel leaders in 2003

Doku Umarov during a meeting of rebel leaders in 2003

(RFE/RL) -- A website linked to Chechen separatist fighters said today that it has received a letter from Islamist militants who claim responsibility for the bombing of a Russian express train last week that killed 26 people.

The statement says the November 27 bombing of the "Nevsky Express" -- a luxury train that runs between Moscow and St. Petersburg -- "was prepared and carried out" on the orders of Doku Umarov.

Umarov is the self- proclaimed leader of the Caucasus Emirate that has sought to unite militant Islamist groups in Russia's North Caucasus and establish Islamic Shari'a law in the region.

Published on the website, the statement says last week's train bombing was one of a several attacks "planned from the beginning of this year" and "carried out against a set of strategically important sites in Russia."

The statement threatens more attacks as long as Russian forces in the Caucasus continue what the militants described as a "policy of killing ordinary Muslims."

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the authenticity of the claim. has, in the past, carried claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks that Russian authorities later said were not genuine.

Umarov is thought to be one of the masterminds of a series of high-profile terrorist attacks, including the 2004 Beslan school massacre and, more recently, the attempted assassination of Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

Russian authorities said in June, after the suicide bombing that badly wounded Yevkurov, that Umarov had been killed or seriously injured during a special counterterrorism operation by Russian forces.

But Umarov contacted RFE/RL by telephone in early July from an undisclosed location in Chechnya, saying that he had not been injured and that he was planning future attacks within the Russian Federation.

Umarov told RFE/RL he had been meeting with fighters from various armed groups on the border between Chechnya and Daghestan. He said he was recruiting fighters and collecting weapons for Riyadus Salikhin, a battalion of Islamic militants founded by rebel commander Shamil Basayev, who was killed in 2006.

Umarov also told RFE/RL that he now gives the final orders to militants in the region and that "no mujahid carries out an attack" without his orders.

LISTEN: RFE/RL North Caucasus correspondent Aslan Ayubov explains that Basayev and Umarov had ties going back many years:

The bombing of the "Nevsky Express" was the worst terrorist attack in Russia outside of the North Caucasus in five years. It has raised fears of a new wave of terrorist attacks in major Russian cities.

The ruling party in the Russian Federation, United Russia, is organizing memorial ceremonies in Moscow and St. Petersburg today to commemorate the victims of the "Nevsky Express" bombing and other victims of terrorism in Russia during the past decade.

with agency reports