The twin bomb blasts in Moscow's crowded metro that killed 38 people and wounded 65 during the morning rush hours on Monday were a horrible reminder of continuing Islamist violence in Russia's troublesome North Caucasus. Female suicide bombers carried out the strikes — a trademark tactic of Chechen terrorists. One of the extremist websites claimed the attacks were staged by Chechen militants. Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin launched a second military campaign to crush separatism in the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority republic, suicide bombers have killed hundreds of people in attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities. In 2004, one such attack in the Moscow metro claimed 41 lives. After Chechnya was pacified in the mid-2000s, violence spread to the neighbouring North Caucasus regions, where massive poverty, unemployment, and rampant corruption provided fertile ground for extremism. While the Chechnya war was waged for independence from Russia, today's insurgency is a patently jihadist movement. In 2007, Chechnya's self-proclaimed ‘Emir of the Caucasus,' Doku Umarov, proclaimed the goal of liberating all of Russia's Muslim regions. Security experts do not rule out the latest deadly attacks being the terrorists' revenge for recent successful counter-insurgency operations in the North Caucasus, during which several terrorist leaders, including al Qaeda-linked Arab warlord Abu Haled, extremist ideologist Said Buryatsky, and head of the Caucasus Emirate's Sharia Court, Anzor Astemirov, were killed.
President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to fight terrorism “without hesitation, to the end.” At the same time, the Kremlin has shifted the emphasis away from a security crackdown to promoting economic development, rooting out corruption, and clamping down on economic crime. In January, Mr. Medvedev merged seven Muslim regions in the North Caucasus into a new federal district and appointed one of Russia's most competent administrators, Alexander Khloponin, to be in charge, with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister. Explaining his move, Mr. Medvedev said that the region's problems “lie in economic weakness and the absence of prospects for the people living there” and that these problems should be in the focus of anti-terrorist efforts. India, a major victim of terrorism, condemned the attacks, with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna expressing solidarity with Russia and underlining that New Delhi “condemned terrorism in all forms and countries.” Ripples from the Moscow metro blasts may extend beyond Russia and provide a moral boost to terrorists round the world. It is therefore imperative that the international community steps up cooperation in the war against terrorism on all fronts.