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Moscovites familiar with atmosphere of terror

Chechen separatists have not carried out an attack in Moscow for years, but the twin metro bombings echo earlier violence.

A Russian police officer patrols inside a metro station in Moscow on March 29, 2010, after two women suicide bombers blew themselves up on packed metro cars in central Moscow's morning rush hour, killing at least 39 people. (Alexey Sazonov/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW, Russia — Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up inside the Moscow metro at the start of rush hour Monday morning, killing at least 39 people and injuring dozens more. 

The coordinated attack, which struck two trains as they pulled into stations in the very heart of Moscow, shattered the calm that had reigned in the Russian capital during the last half-decade, raising the specter of further attacks. 

Authorities immediately lay blame on separatists from the North Caucasus, Russia’s mainly Muslim southern region. At the turn of this century, rebels from Chechnya brought their separatist struggle to Moscow, carrying out a series of spectacular suicide attacks — on theaters, concerts and the metro — that killed hundreds of people. 

Many of those attacks were carried out by women known here as “black widows” — sisters and wives of Chechen men who were killed or went missing in so-called “clean-up operations,” a favorite tactic of federal and local security forces in which a village’s male population was rounded up because of suspected links to rebels. 

The last attack in central Moscow came in August 2004, killing 10 people. Since then, Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, has taken pride in quelling Chechnya’s separatist rebellion, installing a brutal local leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to reign over the republic. 

Kadyrov stands accused of countless human rights abuses — including torture, murder and punitive house burnings of those suspecting of housing rebels. Separatist activity has never ceased entirely, and signs of its strengthening have grown in recent months. 

Yet until recently, signs of discontent, including suicide bombings, have largely been contained to Chechnya and its equally troubled neighboring republic, Ingushetia. The first attack outside the unstable region came in November, when a bomb derailed the Nevsky Express, a high-speed train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing 26 people. 

The sites of Monday’s bombings were telling. The first bomb struck just before 8 a.m. as the train pulled into metro station Lubyanka, which is located underneath the headquarters of the FSB, the main successor agency to the KGB, which Putin headed before joining the Russian leadership in 1999. 

(Watch the video below for footage from immediately after the attack. Warning: This contains graphic images.)

The second bomb went off about 40 minutes later, as a train pulled into the Park Kultury metro station, just across the river from the headquarters of Russia’s Interior Ministry, which oversees its police force. 

The bombers, in addition to terrorizing the population, were striking as close as they could to the heart of Russia’s feared security services. 

No one has yet laid claim to the bombings.