By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; A08
MOSCOW -- An Islamist rebel leader asserted responsibility Wednesday for the suicide bombings in the Moscow subway stations that killed 39 people two days earlier and threatened more attacks to avenge what he called atrocities ordered by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Russia's volatile southwest.
The video statement by the Chechen militant, Doku Umarov, was posted on the Internet hours after another double bombing killed at least 12 people in Dagestan, located east of Chechnya in the North Caucasus region, where the Kremlin has been battling a separatist insurgency.
"You Russians only see the war on television and hear about it on the radio, and this is why you are quiet and do not react to the atrocities that your bandit groups under Putin's command carry out in the Caucasus," Umarov said in the 4.5-minute video. "I promise you that the war will come to your streets, and you will feel it in your lives and under your skin."
Umarov, dressed in fatigues and sitting in what appeared to be a forest clearing, said he ordered the two subway bombings in retaliation for an anti-terrorism raid by security forces in February in which at least 20 people were killed, asserting that officers used knives to execute innocent, impoverished villagers.
Umarov said he could only grin when accused of terrorism because he has not heard people condemn Putin for such crimes, and he pledged new attacks on Russians "who send their gangs to the Caucasus and support their security services that carry out massacres."
There was no government response, but Chechnya's representative in the Kremlin-controlled parliament dismissed the threat. "It doesn't matter that he has claimed responsibility for those bestial murders," Ziyad Sabsabi told the Interfax news agency. "In any case, his days are numbered."
Russian forces have tried for years to capture or kill Umarov, who declared jihad in 2007 to establish what the rebels call a Caucasus Emirate.
But it is unclear how much power he wields over the insurgency, which analysts say is a loose network of groups that operate independently.
The militants have stepped up attacks over the past year in the North Caucasus, where bombings and shootouts with the authorities occur almost daily. But the timing of Wednesday's double bombing in Dagestan, occurring so soon after two female bombers struck the Moscow subway system, raised fears of a fresh wave of terrorism across the country.
Officials said the first blast Wednesday occurred as traffic police officers approached the bomber's car in the town of Kizlyar, near the Chechen border. As investigators and onlookers gathered, an assailant in a police uniform pushed through the crowd and set off another explosion. Nine police officers were among the dead, including the town's police chief.
In televised remarks, Putin said the attack may have been committed by "the same gang" responsible for the Moscow blasts. "It does not matter for us in what part of the country these crimes have been committed or who -- people of what ethnicity or religion -- have fallen victim to these crimes," he said, ordering police reinforcements in the North Caucasus. "We see this as a crime against Russia."
The subway bombings were the first suicide attacks in Moscow in nearly six years and raised questions about Putin's record of maintaining peace in the capital, as well as his brute-force approach to suppressing militants.
President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's protégé, has pushed for a more balanced strategy in the North Caucasus, appointing officials there who have sought to improve economic conditions, open talks with critics and draw public support away from the rebels.
"The terrorists want to destabilize the situation in the country, to destroy civil society, and are driven by the desire to sow fear and panic among people. We will not let this happen," Medvedev said at a session of the Russian Security Council.
Gulnara Rustamova, head of Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights, said conditions in the province seemed to have been improving since Medvedev appointed a new governor last month. Wednesday's attack, she said, may have been intended to undermine the governor's efforts.
"I hope he has the wisdom and enough strength to take the right steps and to continue building the dialogue in society," she said. "We are all so sick and tired of all these terrorist acts and unlawful murders. We want to live in peace and to be safe."