Security sources have named an ethnic Russian Christian who converted to Islam as the prime suspect in Monday's deadly suicide bombing at a Moscow airport.
Sources close to the investigation said that Vitaly Razdobudko, a 32-year-old from the southern Russian city of Stavropol, was being sought in connection with the attack, the Kommersant newspaper reported yesterday. It is not known whether Razdobudko is suspected of being the actual suicide bomber or an accomplice.
Razdobudko went missing in October last year, with his wife, according to police sources in Stavropol. He is believed to have been an Orthodox Christian, of Slavic appearance, who later converted to Islam.
The bomb, which ripped through the arrivals hall of Domodedovo Airport on Monday afternoon, killed 35 people including one Briton and left 180 injured. Russian authorities have released little information, and eyewitness accounts diverge wildly. Some speak of a male suicide bomber, some of a female bomber; in some testimonies, the bomber detonated a suicide vest, while in others the bomb was in a suitcase.
The first official statement about the attack came yesterday afternoon, when a representative of Russia's Anti-Terror Committee denied that security services had learnt of a possible attack before Monday, and attacked journalists for speculating on who might have been behind the blast. "Only the Investigative Committee can say what and how things happened, and everyone else should be silent," a spokesman for the committee said.
The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who in the aftermath of the attack said that "revenge is inevitable", has already said that the attack had no links to Chechnya. Russia's Islamic insurgency has in recent years spread across the North Caucasus region to neighbouring republics. It is nominally controlled by Doku Umarov, the self-styled "Emir of the Caucasus", but experts believe that different groups function autonomously in different regions.
In this case, suspicion has fallen on a cell called the Nogai Brigade, which is thought to operate around Stavropol and in the northern part of neighbouring Dagestan. Police said they were looking for 10 members of the group, which is also suspected of being behind a failed attack on New Year's Eve, when a female suicide bomber was believed to be preparing to attack crowds of Russians celebrating the New Year on Manezh Square near the Kremlin.
Instead she blew herself up during the day in a Moscow suburb. Police think the bomb was detonated accidentally, probably by a mobile phone.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that Russia believes the airport attackers may have been trained at al-Qa'ida camps on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani media yesterday quoted sources in the country's intelligence agency saying that officers from Russia's security service, the FSB, had asked their Pakistani counterparts for information and support.
So far, no group has taken responsibility for the bombing. However, Umarov vowed last year to hit energy and transport infrastructure in the heart or Russia. The airport attack was timed to cause maximum embarrassment for Russia,coming just before Mr Medvedev travelled to Davos to drum up foreign investment in Russia.
Militant groups have also threatened to target sporting events. Russia will host the World Cup in 2018 and the Winter Olympics in 2014. And the winter games will be held in Sochi, not far from the North Caucasus region, and.
Yesterday, more top transport officials were sacked, including the head of air transport security for the western part of Russia. Mr Medvedev said the airport's security had been in a "state of anarchy", and appears keen to blame civilian bodies rather than ask why the FSB security services and police failed to stop the attack.