Moscow bombers 'were not Chechens'

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The Independent Online

No single ethnic Chechen is among those suspected of the bombings that killed 300 people in Russia last year and helped to ignite the war in Chechnya, the Russian secret service said yesterday

No single ethnic Chechen is among those suspected of the bombings that killed 300 people in Russia last year and helped to ignite the war in Chechnya, the Russian secret service said yesterday

General Alexander Zdanovich, the spokesman for the FSB secret service, said, however, that the 14 suspected bombers were trained in camps in Chechnya.

Immediately after bombs exploded in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk last September the security forces issued photofit pictures, which gave the clear impression that the bombers were Chechens.

The bombs, which killed and wounded civilians, terrified ordinary Russians and ensured maximum popular support for the invasion of Chechnya.General Zdanovich told the Interfax news agency that investigators now knew "the entire crime mechanism and those who carried out the crime". He said nine of the 14 suspects, all of whom are in hiding in Chechnya, were wanted by Interpol.

But the FSB, the successor organisation to the KGB, has yet to explain who was behind the bombings. The Russian media has increasingly voiced suspicions that they were planted at the behest of somebody in the political élite who wanted a pretext to launch the war.

The immediate background to the bombings and the invasion was the political crisis that the Kremlin faced last August. Boris Yeltsin's popularity as President had reached a new low. The Bank of New York scandal had crystalised revulsion over corruption in the Russian leadership. His family and supporters feared for their necks and fortunes. If the attention of voters was to bediverted elsewhere, the Chech-ens were an obvious target. No other ethnic group is so detested in Russia. In 1994-96 the Chechens fought the federal army to a standstill.

More importantly, most Russians see Chechnya as a Sicily of the Caucasus, a bandit stronghold, whose people kidnap children and murder business competitors.

The chronology for Moscow and Chechnya in the second half of last year is revealing and, to many, highly suspicious. On 8 August, Shamil Basayev, a powerful Chechen warlord, invaded Dagestan to the east of Chechnya in the name of Islamic revolution. On 9 August, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, wholly unknown in Russia, was appointed Prime Minister. In a little over a month the politics of Russia was transformed.

The first bomb, on 4 September, killed 62 people in buildings occupied by military officers and their families in Buinaksk in Dagestan. Four days later a second bomb killed 92 working-class Russians in an apartment block in south Moscow. A further explosion on 13 September killed another 112 people in the same area and was followed by a devastating truck bomb in the southern city of Volgodonsk. Every Russian was terrified of being the next target.

The bombers were not found, but the government and nearly all the Russian people blamed the Chechens for the bombs. Within a week of the last explosion, Russian troops were on the move and at the beginning of October they crossed into Chechnya.

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