12 March 2004, Volume 4, Number 8
THE MOSCOW METRO BOMBINGBy Roman Kupchinsky
On Friday, 6 February, at 8:30 a.m. during the height of the morning rush hour, a powerful explosive device detonated in the second car of a train in the Moscow subway after it left the Avtozavodskaya station heading in the direction of central Moscow. The force of the explosion pushed out the metal sides of the second car, tore a hole in the roof, and collapsed the car behind it. According to official figures provided to the RosBalt news agency on 17 February by the Federal Security Service (FSB), 40 people were killed.
Many passengers were injured by shards of glass from the windows of the subway car, which burst in the explosion. Others suffered internal injuries from the rapid changes of pressure during and after the explosion in a tightly confined space.
Russian law-enforcement agencies initially said that they suspected a Chechen suicide bomber (or bombers) was responsible for the blast, the first alleged act of terrorism in Moscow in 2004. Russian President Vladimir Putin was notified of the event and immediately issued a statement linking Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov to the explosion, according to the newspaper "Izvestiya." on 7 February. The FSB officially announced that it was the work of a suicide bomber only on 17 February.
Reacting to Putin's statement, in an interview with RFE/RL on 6 February, Chechen rebel leaders denied any involvement in the blast and said that they had issued orders to their fighters to avoid civilian targets.
Chechen separatist leader Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, speaking with RFE/RL by telephone from London, denied any involvement: "The president [Maskhadov] and the government of the Chechen Republic officially declare that they have absolutely no connection with this provocation and condemn it unequivocally. Terrorism is not our method, and those who are trying to carry out their policies by intimidating society will suffer a fiasco in the end and will find themselves behind bars."
The same day, police investigators informed the media that they had a composite drawing of one of the suspects in the bombing. Allegedly a man resembling a resident of the Caucasus, accompanied by two females, approached a worker at the Avtozavodskaya metro station, nearest the explosion, and said, "You'll get a holiday" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 9 February 2004). At first it was not clear if the suspect had perished in the blast or merely left the explosive device (according to the FSB, the bomb contained 5 kilograms of TNT) in the subway car and escaped, or if he was indeed in any way connected to the explosion. Later it was confirmed that the bomber had perished in the blast.
"Kommersant-Daily" on 7 February provided some initial details of the investigation. According to the newspaper's Andrei Salnikov, there was no smell of resin in the damaged subway cars after the blast, which indicates that plastic explosives (such as C-4 or Semtex) were most likely not used. However, the newspaper noted that the smell of charred flesh was so overbearing that it might have drowned out the smell of resin. The explosive device was not placed under the subway car since there was no hole in the floor of the car and the person who had the explosive was most likely standing by the door of the second car. Later reports said that traces of TNT had been detected by investigators. This turned out to be the explosive used in the bomb.
According to "Kommersant-Daily," the police were examining videotapes of passengers in the station taken by cameras installed by the escalators leading to the train platform.
The investigation, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 February, is being headed by Aleksandr Zhdanov, a former commander of the federal forces in Chechnya and allegedly the FSB's best specialist on combating terrorism.
RosBalt on 17 February quoted the FSB press service as saying that "over 1,000 witnesses have given statements and 200 addresses have been verified with explosives found at several of them." No further information was made available about the amounts or types of explosive found.
Reporting on the investigation, "The Washington Post" noted on 15 February that a 52-year-old refugee from Chechnya, Akhmed Arsanakov, was brought in for fingerprinting hours after the blast. He told the paper that he had been fingerprinted four times in the past, but the police explained to him: "We have to do it.... To show that we are working after the terrorist attack." He said, "They just need to find a Chechen."
However, FSB spokesman Colonel Sergei Ignatchenko said explosives being transported on the train might have gone off accidentally, the BBC reported on 9 February, citing RIA-Novosti. One theory advanced in the press was that a terrorist might have been carrying them to a different location and they detonated by accident. Another theory was that since the explosive device did not contain any metal objects (nails, small metal darts, or other shrapnel) as is usually the case in a suicide-bomb attack in order to inflict greater damage, there was the possibility that it was not a terrorist attack. A person or persons might have been carrying the explosive for a different purpose and it detonated accidentally. Apparently this theory was later dropped in favor of the suicide-bomber version.
An Abkhaz Spy And A Saudi
Complicating the investigation even further, the Kavkaz Center website (http://www.kavkazcenter.com) reported that at a press conference held on 9 February, Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said that Georgian secret services had detained a citizen of the Russian Federation who was charged with spying for Russia. The man, identified in "The Moscow Times" on 10 February as Nazir Aidobolov, allegedly told the FSB officer assigned to the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi a few days before the blast that he had been told by Chechens in Tbilisi of an attack that was to take place in Moscow on 6 February. This, according to Khaburzania, was intended to tie in the "Chechen terrorists" responsible for the attack on 6 February with Georgia and thereby compromise newly elected Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's visit to Moscow, which took place on 10 February. Aidobolov was detained by the FSB for questioning, "The Moscow Times" reported.
Meanwhile, on 8 February, London's "Sunday Times" speculated that the man behind the subway bombing could be a Saudi Islamist volunteer fighting in Chechnya, Abu-qal-Walid al-Ghamidi. The "Sunday Times" quoted FSB spokesman Ignatchenko as saying that the FSB has information that "terrorist acts" in Russian cities are coordinated and masterminded by "international terrorists" Abu-Walid and Abu Omar al-Seif, allegedly hiding in the mountains of Chechnya. No other proof was offered by the paper as to the supposed role of these two men.
Soft Targets, Hard Cases
The Moscow metro underground subway system is considered a "soft target," as are underground subway systems in all major cities. The high volume of passengers using the subway, the ease of carrying on board an explosive device or just plain gasoline (in an incident in South Korea in February 2003 a man carried a milk carton filled with gasoline inside his backpack, set it on fire, and threw it inside a crowded subway car, killing 130 people) makes them an easy target for terrorist attacks.
The explosion in February was not the first in the Moscow metro. In 1977 an explosion killed seven people and injured 32. At that time, Victor Louis, a Soviet journalist suspected of KGB ties, wrote an article for the "London Evening News" implying that the bombing was by Soviet dissidents. This prompted Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov to write, "I cannot shake off the deep sense that the explosion in the Moscow subway with its tragic deaths is a new provocation of the agencies of repression...." The blast was eventually blamed on "Armenian separatists."
Appearing on the Russian television program "Post Scriptum" on 7 February, former Interior Minister and current State Duma Deputy Anatolii Kulikov decried the lack of preparedness in Russia against terrorist attacks. He cited the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after the 11 September 2001 attacks as an example of what steps Russia should take to increase security for its citizens.
Former FSB Director (1996-98) Nikolai Kovalev, who took part in the investigation of the 1977 metro bombing in Moscow, told the newspaper "Russkii kurer" on 7 February that Russian law-enforcement agencies did not have the manpower to handle large numbers of terrorist investigations. In 1977, Kovalev said, "Everyone was told that they would not be allowed to go off duty until the bombers were found." This, he conceded, was not feasible today.
In an apparent response to the metro bombing, the Russian State Duma approved a proposal to increase the prison sentence for terrorism, RosBalt reported on 19 February. The change will mean that prison sentences from eight to 12 years can now be imposed on terrorists (presently they range from 5-10 years' imprisonment) and life sentences can be given in extreme circumstances.
The Killing Of Zemilkhan Yandarbiev
On 12 February, six days after the Moscow subway bombing, former Chechen President Zemilkhan Yandarbiev was killed when the automobile he and his 13-year-old son Daud were in exploded in Qatar. The apparent cause of the explosion was a bomb planted in the automobile, AP reported on 14 February.
Kavkazcenter.com on 13 February quoted an aide to former Chechen President Ibrahim Gabi as saying that "there are no doubts whatsoever that Lubyanka [the building in Moscow where the FSB is headquartered] is behind this bloody terrorist act." FSB spokesman Boris Labusov denied his agency's involvement in the bombing, ITAR-TASS reported.
Yandarbiev was acting president of Chechnya in 1996-97. A poet and the author of a book for children, Yandarbiev was known for his radical Islamic views. He had been living in Qatar since 2000 and was wanted by Russia, which had been seeking his extradition, and was suspected of being behind the seizure of hostages in the Moscow theater in Dubrovka. In 2003 his name was placed on a United Nations list of terrorists for his alleged links to Al-Qaeda. In Qatar he raised money for the Chechen cause, but denied any links to terrorism.
On 22 February, Gulf Arab foreign ministers condemned the killing in Qatar and said they would support any steps it took to uncover facts behind the "criminal act," news agencies reported.
Soon after the killing of Yandarbiev, on the night from 18 to 19 February, the Qatari authorities arrested two Russian Embassy employees in the capital city of Doha on charges of murdering the Chechen leader. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov immediately protested and claimed that the agents had nothing to do with the assassination and demanded that the men be released. In his statement, which was quoted by RIA-Novosti on 26 February, Ivanov admitted that the arrested men were officers of the Russian secret services and were working in counterterrorism.
In apparent retaliation for the arrests in Qatar, Interfax reported on 29 February that two athletes, Qatari citizens, had been arrested in Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 airport and were detained on charges of being connected with illegal armed groups in Russia. Interfax reported that Russian special services had not commented on these reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February and 1 March 2004).
Akram Khouzam, chief of the Moscow office of Qatar-based television channel Al-Jazeera, told Interfax on 28 February that he had spoken about these reports with the Qatari ambassador, who said he did not know anything about the detention.
Information about the arrested men was confused and on 4 March Ekho Moskvy radio reported that the possibility existed that the Qataris had been detained by the FSB, which wanted to exchange them for their operatives in jail in Qatar.
New Chechen Group Claims Responsibility
According to kavkazcenter.com, late at night on 29 February a man who identified himself as Lom-Ali called the offices of the website, saying that he was calling on a satellite phone from Chechnya, and that his group was the one which sent a statement by e-mail claiming responsibility for the Moscow subway bombing. The statement, dated 8 February, which was reprinted on the website, said that the bombing was an act of revenge for a massacre in Aldy on 5-6 February 2000. The group which allegedly sent the e-mail identified itself as the "Gazoton Murdash Brotherhood," an unknown group.
TWO DRUG SMUGGLERS RETURN FROM THAI JAILOn 13 January, two Czech citizens sentenced to 50 years in prison for drug smuggling in Thailand returned to their homeland to serve the rest of their sentence, according to reports in the Czech media. Radek Hanykovics and Emil Novotny have spent the past eight years in Bang Kwang prison in Thailand. Both men were flown in on a regular Air France flight, and first taken to the Prague Municipal Court, which placed them under custody until their medical check-ups were completed for possible diseases caused by the poor medical conditions in Thai prisons.
On 2 March the court reached its final verdict. Hanykovics, arrested for smuggling 2.4 kilograms of heroin in 1996, will have to serve the rest of his sentence -- 17 years, and Novotny, caught when he attempted to smuggle 4.2 kilograms of heroin in 1995, will serve 34 years. Both prisoners will also be asked to pay the Czech government full compensation of the cost of their transport back into the Czech Republic. The maximum sentence for drug smuggling in the Czech Republic is 15 years, but according to the Czech-Thai agreement, the Czech court decided to comply with the stricter Thai sentence. (Tereza Nemcova)
NEW ANTICORRUPTION CAMPAIGN LAUNCHEDLashing out at his security services for their ineffectiveness and the Fuel and Energy Ministry for being negligent, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma launched yet another anticorruption drive on 29 January, Interfax-Ukraine reported.
Speaking at a national anticorruption conference, Kuchma called for an effective policy to end "the virus of corruption" and pledged to implement a "tough and truly effective policy against corruption."
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) came under particular scrutiny in Kuchma's speech to the conference. "From the new leadership of the Ukrainian Security Service I expect better awareness of the facts of abuse of office in central executive bodies and in regions.... Neither last year, nor earlier, did law enforcement bodies receive any information on facts of corruption and abuse of office in the top authority structures."
Kuchma promised to improve the state energy sector, which he labeled "negligent." Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying: "Economic crimes hit the energy sector the most. They account for every 10th economic crime." According to Kuchma, some 70 million hryvnyas ($13 million) were lost in the energy sector due to mismanagement and corruption in 2003. "If the national energy company will work the way Naftohaz Ukrayiny or Energoatom do now, I am confident things will turn for the better," Kuchma said.
Ukraine has ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world throughout both Kuchma administrations in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perception Index. RK
FORMER PROSECUTOR APPOINTED TO DEFENSE COUNCIL...On 16 February, two weeks after the anticorruption conference, former Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who was dismissed in October 2003 on charges of corruption and misuse of state funds, was appointed deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council by President Kuchma, Interfax-Ukraine reported.
On 30 October 2003 the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) published excerpts of charges raised against Piskun at an October meeting of the Coordinating Committee for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime, which comprises the heads of the SBU, the Interior Ministry, the State Tax Administration, the Justice Ministry, and other government officials. At this meeting it was decided: "For serious infractions of existing legislation and dishonorable actions, to recommend to the president under Article 106 of the constitution of Ukraine to remove Svyatoslav Piskun from the post of prosecutor-general." According to "Ukrayinska pravda," all members of the Coordinating Committee present at the meeting, including SBU head Ihor Smeshko and Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon, voted for the motion. That same day, Kuchma removed Piskun from his post.
Appearing at a press conference that day, Coordinating Committee Chairwoman Olha Kolinko described how Piskun allegedly misused state funds in the sum of 26 million hryvnyas ($5.2 million) "for his private needs," "Ukrayinska pravda" reported, RK
...AS FORMER AIR FORCE COMMANDER DESCRIBES LACK OF TRANSPARENCYRetired Colonel General Volodymyr Antonych, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force from 1993 to 1999, gave an in-depth interview in the 11 February issue of the newspaper "Postup" in which he described how Ukraine sold its fleet of TU-160 and TU-95 strategic bombers to Russia.
After Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal, the delivery system for its cruise missiles consisted of 43 TU-160 and TU-95 bombers, which were now ill-suited for other missions. The costs of refurbishing them for general aviation or military purposes was too great so a decision was made by then President Leonid Kravchuk to sell the aircraft to Russia, which was interested in buying them. The original selling price was $8 billion, but this was soon reduced to $3 billion. According to the article, the money from the sale was supposed to go to the air force. The Russians made a counteroffer of $300 million. In the interview Antonych claims that he opposed selling at this price and was removed from office in 1999 for this reason.
In 2000, during President Kuchma's second term, the aircraft were sold to Russia for $275 million. The sale, according to Antonych, was done through Ihor Bakay, then head of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, the state oil and gas monopoly, who was lobbying this deal in Moscow to use the money to reduce his company's debt for gas. But the money, according to Antonych, never reached the air force, for whom it was intended.
Bakay left Naftohaz in 2001 amid allegations of serious wrongdoings and became the object of a corruption investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office, an investigation which was never formally closed. Despite the open investigation, in late 2003 Bakay was appointed by Kuchma to head the property office in the presidential administration. What became of the $275 million from the sale of the aircraft? Antonych claimed that this is still shrouded in mystery. RK
BATTLING 'AN OVERINDULGENCE IN BRIBERY'The first law against on corruption in Russia was passed by Tsar Ivan III. Results were decidedly mixed and it fell to his grandson, Ivan the Terrible, a ruthless autocrat, to strengthen these measures. After being proclaimed tsar in 1547, Ivan the Terrible introduced the death penalty for "overindulgence in bribery"; this seemed to work for a short time.
Some 450 years later, and less then three months prior to the presidential elections, on 12 January President Vladimir Putin addressed the first meeting of the new Russian anticorruption body, the Council for the Struggle Against Corruption, which was created in late 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). In his remarks to the meeting, as reported by RosBalt, Putin stressed that strengthened democracy and a civilized market can effectively reduce the dimensions of corruption. One of the first aims of the council, Putin stated, would be to reinvigorate the bureaucracy on the federal and municipal levels. He called for upgrading the pay of government officials "in order to make their work absolutely transparent."
A great measure of doubt as to the effectiveness of this new council is the fact that it will have only an advisory role. There are no representatives of law-enforcement agencies on the council and while this might seem odd, some observers in Russia have written that their omission is one of the more positive aspects of the council.
Can it succeed? Interfax reported on 12 January that 56 percent of Russians think that bribery and corruption are among the biggest problems in the country. A large majority, 82 percent, think that Russia will not be able to eradicate corruption in the foreseeable future.
Putin's anticorruption initiative is not the first in Russia's post-Soviet history. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, announced four different wars on crime and corruption during his tenure. In 1992 he formed the Inter-Departmental Commission on Combating Crime and Corruption, and in November 1993 yet another new "war" was declared. In January 1994 the justice minister was empowered to fight this war, and in June 1994 Operation Hurricane was launched, placing over 20,000 Interior Ministry troops on the streets to fight crime and corruption. Some 2,000 people were arrested and subsequently released a few days afterward.
The new anticorruption council met for the first time only after the elections to the State Duma in December 2003 and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was named to head the council for the next six months. RK