Officials fault security in Moscow bombing

Editor's note: Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that poor security practices allowed a suicide bomber to attack the Moscow airport and that airport officials would be held reponsible.

MOSCOW, Russia — After a huge explosion that tore apart the international arrivals section of Moscow’s busiest airport and killed more than 30 people, Russians are pointing the finger at Muslim militants from the north Caucasus.

Sixty ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast, which occurred in the mid-afternoon today among people gathered to meet passengers leaving the baggage collection area at Domodedovo airport.

Though reports of casualties conflict, officials confirmed 34 people killed and 74 hospitalized out of more than 180 injured.

Photos and video from the scene showed bloody bodies scattered amidst discarded luggage and coated in a thick layer of dust.

A man identified as Dr. Johann Hammerer, interviewed by the BBC, said that the injured and dead were put on baggage trolleys before being wheeled away.

Speaking on Russian television, President Dmitry Medvdev announced that preliminary evidence suggested the explosion was likely to have been an act of terrorism and he ordered increased security at other major transport hubs.

Speculation about the form of the attack included the possibility that it was carried out by a suicide bomber who mingled with those at the international arrivals gate.

A source at Domodedovo told Russian state media that the decapitated head of a man of Arab appearance, aged between 30 and 35, and likely to be the instigator of the explosion had been found.

However, Maria Lipman, a political analyst at Moscow’s Carnegie Center, said the average Russian citizen would assume that the explosion was the work of militants from the northern Caucasus.

The Moscow metro was the scene of a multiple suicide bombing in March 2010 that killed 40 and was the work of militants from Russia’s volatile Dagestan republic.

Though an unidentified law enforcement official was quoted by Russian news agency Interfax as saying that three north Caucasus natives living near Moscow had been put on a national wanted list after Monday’s explosion, no official statement on those responsible has yet been made.

Violence in the north Caucasus, which includes the republics of Chechnya and Dagestan, spiraled in 2010.

The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, described the situation in October on Russian radio as “a hair’s breadth from war” and said that between five and six representatives of law-enforcement bodies in the region are killed every day.

In the wake of last March's metro bombings, Medvedev called for Russia to deal “sharp dagger blows to the terrorists” and security forces have since claimed they have successfully eliminated those responsible for the atrocity.

Tit-for-tat killings illustrate how the north Caucasus is caught in a “vicious cycle of violence” said Lipman, which occurs against a background of background of poverty, corruption, inefficiency and radical Islam.

The organizers of the Domodedovo blast may well have had links to international terrorist movements including access to training camps, finances and equipment, added Lipman, but at the heart of the issue are domestic concerns.

“The north Caucasus is a Russian problem,” she said.

Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a stone’s throw from the Caucasus Mountains. This is a tempting target for would-be terrorists and an artificial deadline for the Russian government, providing a tempting incentive to look to short-term solutions for the region’s instabilities.

Lipman was pessimistic about the possibility of halting violence in the north Caucasus that occasionally spills over into the streets and transport infrastructure of Moscow.

“I really do not see how this will not happen again,” she said. 

Today's enormous blast, which occurred at 4:32 p.m. local time, was estimated by security services to have been triggered by between five and seven kilograms of a TNT-equivalent. Airport officials broke down a brick wall to evacuate survivors.

No Russian state offices or officials were affected and the nearby customs hall was not damaged in the attack, which took place next to an airport cafe.

In 2010 more than 22 million passengers passed through Domodedovo airport, which is served by 77 airlines. Flights that landed within half an hour of the explosion had arrived from the Ukraine, Egypt, Brussels, Bulgaria and London.

Two female suicide bombers boarded planes by bribing officials at Domodedovo in 2004, subsequently blowing themselves up in mid-air, killing all 90 people onboard the flights.

Andrei Soldatov, the editor of the agentura.ru website which tracks Russia’s intelligence services, said that, though it happened in an area where no screening processes are in place, airport security should not be an issue in the wake of this attack.

“Moscow is overcrowded,” he said, “and it is impossible to secure all such places.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the name of a region and a date.