Russian leaders fault airport after bombing

Police officers check identifications near a railway station in St. Petersburg, a day after a bombing killed 35 at an airport near Moscow.
Police officers check identifications near a railway station in St. Petersburg, a day after a bombing killed 35 at an airport near Moscow. (Kirill Kudryavtsev)

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MOSCOW - Assigning blame in the wake of the suicide bombing at Domodedovo Airport, Russian leaders Tuesday drew a clear line between those responsible for security at the airport and those whose job it is to fight terrorism nationally.

President Dmitry Medvedev described airport security as "chaos," and a criminal investigation that could target Domodedovo's management was launched. But when he later met with leaders of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is charged with preventing terrorism, Medvedev made no mention in his public remarks of the agency's inability to stop Monday's attack. Instead, he praised its record.

Thirty-five people were killed at the airport when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a reception area where drivers and others wait for incoming passengers on international flights. Between 110 and 125 people were hospitalized; government agencies continued to disagree on the exact number.

One report said there were two bombers, a man and a woman, but others described a lone man. Sources told Russian wire agencies that the FSB had been on the lookout for a terrorist attack at an airport, but because it was expecting women to be the perpetrators, it missed the bomber.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a veteran of the FSB and its predecessor, the KGB, and under him the agency has achieved unparalleled clout within the government. Critics say it has grown so powerful that it is beyond reproach and now beyond even the Kremlin's control.

Medvedev met with top officials of the FSB on Tuesday morning and sounded a tough line - but not toward the agency. "You cannot be too soft with bandits. It was another and very cruel challenge to our society and the state in general," he said. "We have to do everything toward finding, exposing and prosecuting the bandits who committed this crime, and the dens of these bandits, no matter how well they are hidden, should be eliminated.

"The FSB and law enforcement bodies have sufficient experience in such operations. We must act."

Putin said Tuesday that "retribution is inevitable" for the attack. "I have no doubt that this crime will be resolved."

Both men have said these sorts of things after previous terrorist acts, even as the number of attacks in Russia, many of which attract little attention, has been increasing sharply.

Fears of a clampdown

Each major attack - the most recent before Monday's was on the Moscow Metro last March - brings a strengthening of central authority, said Ilya Yashin, the leader of the youth wing of Solidarity, an opposition party. "And yet we have bombs in the center of Russia," he said. "Not a single Russian has a feeling of security."

He said he worries that the government might exploit the bombing by banning demonstrations, possibly revoking the Russian Constitution's Article 31, which, though rarely observed, guarantees freedom of assembly.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, another opposition leader and a former speaker of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said he doesn't expect further clampdowns on freedoms.


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