Terrorism related violence has been increasing in Russia at an alarming rate. An apparent suicide bomber detonated a bomb Monday on a bus in the city of Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, killing 10 and wounding at least 10 others. The Monday bombing followed an attack on Sunday, also in Volgograd, involving a suicide bomber at the city’s central rail station that killed 17 people. Monday’s attack was the third attack in Volgograd in the last two months. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Volgograd is a major Russian city of more than 1 million people located in Southern Russian near the highly volatile North Caucasus region. The North Caucasus (NC) is a region that has been the scene of prolific violence over the last few decades. Islamic rebels have been battling the Russian government across the NC since at least 1994 when the First Chechen War broke out between the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Russian government. Islamic fighters led by wanted terrorist Dokka Umarov have claimed most the NC region as their own country and have erected a rebel government in protest to Russian administration of the region. In 2007 Umarov established what he calls the Islamic State of the Caucasus Emirate and declared himself Emir. Since 2007 he has been more or less in control of rebel activities within the region.
Umarov was born in 1964 in the small village of Kharsenoi in southern Chechnya and was a graduate of the Chechen State Oil Institute with a background in engineering. He fought during the First War under the command of prominent militia leader Ruslan Galayev eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He was twice awarded for his service by the Ichkerian government. Umarov served as Security Minister during a brief period of Chechen independence and then again as a field commander when war broke out a second time in 1999. In 2002 he was placed in command of the entire Southwestern Front with a force of well over 1,000 fighters. Since then he has engaged in a series of brutal and deadly terrorist attacks throughout the NC region and Russia. Among his exploits are a 2004 attack in neighboring Ingushetia which resulted in several dozen dead including the Interior Minister of Ingushetia; the 2009 bombing of a Moscow train that killed 26; 2010 suicide bombings on the Moscow metro railway which killed 39; and the 2011 bombing of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport which killed 36 and injured 180. Eye witnesses also identified Umarov as the ring leader of the infamous 2004 Breslan school siege which resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people.
Though Umarov has not yet claimed responsibility for these latest attacks in Volgograd he is the prime suspect. Earlier this year Umarov began advocating for attacks against Russian cities including civilian targets. Russian authorities are fearful amid this new wave of violence as Umarov has also been advocating for attacks on the Olympic Games set to be hosted in the Russian city of Sochi in just a few months. There is concern that these latest bombings are meant as a warning of Umarov’s ability to hit targets deep inside the Russian border and could be a prelude to an attack on the Olympics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered security to be stepped up at all border crossings and transportation hubs, and efforts to find Umarov are thought to be escalating before the Olympics. However, numerous attempts to capture and even assassinate Umarov over the last several years have all failed. The fact that Umarov remains at large and is seemingly renewing his violent efforts means the possibility of a major attack on the Olympic Games is very real.