Moscow blames Islamic terror, but political warfare and a return of Ingush-Ossetian tension are more likely culprits for a wave of killings in the North Caucasus.
On 6 November, an explosion rocked a busy market area of Vladikavkaz, capital of the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Twelve people died, including the suspected terrorist, an unidentified female suicide bomber.
North Ossetia, which lies in the conflict-plagued North Caucasus alongside Ingushetia and Chechnya, has seen explosions and attacks before. But if confirmed, this would be the first suicide attack aimed at civilians in Vladikavkaz.
Ten days later an obscure Islamic extremist organization, Riyadus Salihiyna, claimed responsibility. Created by the notorious Chechen separatist leader Shamil Basaev, the group specialized in suicide bombings, but it was thought to have disbanded in the wake of the 2004 school invasion in Beslan, North Ossetia, and Basaev’s death in 2006.
The group’s claim coincides nicely with the authorities’ version of events. In late November, Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, said international terrorism was behind the attack. Russian security services have repeatedly tried to tie Islamic terrorist rings to the North Caucasus, although they have rarely provided credible evidence to support such claims.
But three years of mounting violence in both North Ossetia and Ingushetia, in conjunction with signs of growing political and inter-ethnic tension, point to a different culprit, and to the failure of Moscow’s heavy-handed 2004 takeover of regional authority.