At least 32 people have been killed in two bombings over the space of less than 24 hours in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. Updates are below. Click here to jump to a summary.
“Unfortunately, the number of fatalities is growing. Two terrorist attacks killed 34 people,” [ Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets] stated. Forty-nine wounded people receive medical treatment at hospitals in Volgograd, 15 wounded people were taken to the hospitals in Moscow, she noted. The deputy prime minister has also set the task to the country’s Health Ministry to decide on the delivery of wounded people within the next day, if the latter need medical aid in Moscow.
The death toll could easily increase further, as at least 6 people are in critical condition.
1655 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has made his New Year address from Russia’s Far East, and not in Moscow. Putin focused on the floods that devastated the Far East, but he also made mention if the Volgograd bombings, at least in the speech in Khabarovsky:
This year we have faced various problems and serious challenges, including the inhumane terrorist attacks in Volgograd and the unprecedented flood in the Far East. In such times of hardship Russia has always been united and cohesive…
Dear friends! We also bow our heads for the victims of brutal terrorist attacks. I am confident that we will continue to fight against terrorists until their total destruction. We will support all the victims of terror and will restore and construct everything that was planned to be restored and built.
Interestingly, however, an earlier address did not contain a single reference to the bombings in Volgograd, which at least temporarily outraged Russians:
Vladimir Putin has disgusted the Russian Internet by not mentioning #volgograd once in his NYE address, just broadcast in the Far East
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) December 31, 2013
Monday, December 30, 2013
Security in numbers! So far 87 detained in “Whirlwind Anti-Terror” sweep in Volgograd http://t.co/7xGCSjEgIA
— Sean Guillory (@seansrussiablog) December 30, 2013
Following the link brings you to a strange video on Life News, a news agency with close ties to security forces. The video shows a group of men apparently being detained or questions by police, hands on head, standing at gunpoint while a reporter stands in front of them. Curiously, at one point, before the reporter starts to speak, one of the men turns around briefly. A gun and ammo clip is on a table behind the men, apparently on display for the camera, though hardly secure, as there is no police officer between the men and the gun.
Perhaps the video is a perfect demonstration of the relationship that Life News has with Russian security agencies, but the entire setup looks suspiciously staged for the camera.
1759 GMT: Not many people are out on the streets taking pictures of Volgograd tonight, but those that are have had similar observations: security is high, the buses are running, and a lot of residents are afraid.
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) December 30, 2013
Police on the streets:
— Кобликов Александр (@Koblikov34) December 30, 2013
Earlier, military vehicles were flooding the streets:
В Волгоград вводят войска. pic.twitter.com/jj6skigtFF
— Фортуна (@10thousandMax) December 30, 2013
1740 GMT: A huge security mission, called the “Vikhr-Antiterror operation,” has been launched in Volgograd. National Anti-Terrorist Committee has announced that over 4000 security personnel will be involved in the sweep. RT adds the following details:
More than 260 search groups and 142 investigative squads are operating in the city, paying special attention to railway stations, shopping malls, and other crowded places.
Over 1,500 such places have been checked since morning. Eighty-seven people were taken to police stations for refusing to show IDs, bearing arms, resisting the police, and other offenses.
— Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) December 30, 2013
1708 GMT: The victims of the families will be compensated. RIA Novosti reports:
Families of each person killed will receive 1 million rubles ($305,000), and between 200,000 to 400,000 rubles ($6,000 to $12,200) will be paid to the families of injured people, Emergency Situations Ministry head Vladimir Puchkov said.
We believe this is a decimal place error, however, as 1 million rubles is roughly $30,500 at the moment.
ITAR-TASS reports that the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Tatarstan will also give 1 million rubles to the families of victims.
Today’s bus bombing has killed at least 14 people and injured 28 more, according to RIA Novosti. As of 14:42 GMT, at least 5 people remained in critical condition, according to RT.
Yesterday’s attack killed 17 people and injured more than 40. That means that the combined death toll is at least 31, and the total number of injuries could be more than 70.
1643 GMT: This video, posted for discussion in the Open Newsroom, reportedly shows the inside of the Volgograd train station at the moment of yesterday’s explosion. We’ve done some analysis of the video, and despite drastic changes to the picture after the explosion, several features are visible both before and after the explosion. Furthermore, the video matches other pictures, some of which are graphic, that Life News posted showing the inside of the train station.
Life News, an outlet with close ties to Russian security, has also posted a video of today’s bus explosion. The video, however, is lower quality, and does not directly show the moment of the explosion. It can be seen here.
Earlier we also posted a gif from an external camera that shows the moment of yesterday’s explosion at the train station.
A total of 50 people were detained. Earlier today, Gazeta.ru reported that about 200 people had gathered for a “Russian rally against terror” event, organized on social networks. The rally was not authorized, according to the portal’s correspondent.
RT also reports that the terror threat has been set to “yellow” in the region, the second highest rating, and will stay there for at least 15 days.
1606 GMT: If you’re watching these bombings in Volgograd while the upcoming Sochi Olympics are in mind, then you are not alone. In fact, international experts, as well as Russian newspapers and officials, are fully aware that Sochi is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that terrorism in the country may increase in frequency and intensity as the Olympic games draw near.
For instance, The Interpreter has just published a translation of a report in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya (NG) that discusses the threat of terrorism in Sochi. It describes how local officials are essentially investigating and monitoring any and all activists and forcing them to file “report cards.” While these moves may be designed to discourage protests and to catch potential terrorists, the moves may be used as a rallying cry by those who recruit terrorists, and have been widely condemned by Russian liberals who see the pre-Sochi security as Draconian. Now that three acts of terrorism have rocked the region in just three days, there will also be questions about whether these measures are effective at all. Read it here:
1555 GMT: This gif, posted to reddit yesterday, shows the moment of the explosion in the Volgograd train station (click to see the picture in motion):
What do authorities know, how do they know it, and what are they reporting?
In the wake of October’s bus bombing in Volgograd, these questions reverberated louder than they typically do because of inconsistencies in the official narrative. Information about the alleged bomber was released very quickly, too quickly for many observers to feel comfortable.
Furthermore, a picture of the bomber’s undamaged passport, with the bomber wearing an Islamic headscarf, was released, but then later a picture of the bomber’s passport was released in which the suspect was not wearing a headscarf and the passport itself was heavily damaged. The Interpreter investigated the two images and discovered that they were the same passport — there were consistencies in water damage, and the picture of the suspect wearing a headscarf had been glued over the picture of the suspect without one. The only logical conclusion we could come up with was that the passport photo was altered by the bomber herself, the passport was not damaged during the explosion, but that it was damaged afterwards, likely by a low-level Russian authority or security agent, in order to dispel doubt as to its authenticity, a strategy that backfired. Still, this was only a theory (read it and see the evidence here), and so the mystery remains.
Russian officials quickly identified yesterday’s suicide bomber as “Oksana Aslanova, a 26-year-old Tabasaran national from Turkmenistan,” according to a source of the Voice of Russia. The woman, a “black widow” who was married to a warlord who was killed in Dagestan, set off a bomb made with 10kg of TNT. This was very specific information, raising some of those same eyebrows that were raised in October. According to Reuters, the bomber’s head was found near the scene of the bombing, and a Russian news agency with close ties to security forces, Life News, actually published an alleged photo of the suspect’s head.
Today, the Russian media is walking back these claims a bit, or is at least focusing on the suspect less. RIA Novosti cites Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin as saying that today’s suspect was a male suicide bomber, and the remains of both bombers is undergoing DNA testing. This reflects a more cautious approach to identifying the suspects.
At the same time, though, Buzzfeed quotes Markin as saying that the two bombs were similar in design, thus the attacks may be linked. Once again, this is highly specific information for this early on in the investigation.
Were the attacks really linked to terrorists? Are the two attacks related? Are they related to previous terrorist attacks? The most likely answer to all of these questions is, of course, yes. But are Russian authorities investigating these ties, or are they just drawing conclusions because they are ideologically convenient? That remains to be seen. And with Sochi on the horizon, and the State Duma appearing increasingly agitated by successful attacks within secure zones, it’ll be important to monitor how Russian authorities respond to the way these incidents are investigated and reported.
1510 GMT: The Russian State Duma is working on its response to these latest bombings as well. Izvestia reports that the Russian legislature is debating auditing the intelligence agencies, and is working to continue to evaluate the state of Russian security and anti-terrorism policies. This is particularly alarming to them, as the bombing at the train station was within a zone of heightened security.
Aleksandr Kurdyumov, a member of the LDPR and Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Duma Organization and Regulation, has said that the Duma will likely consider lifting the moratorium on the death penalty after the new year, at least in cases of terrorism. “[Terrorist] organizers should know that for the attacks they will wait imminent execution,” Kurdyumov told Izvestia.
1444 GMT: The Russian Foreign Ministry has released this statement (via Voice of Russia):
Cynically planned on the eve of New Year celebrations, this strike is another attempt by terrorists to open an internal front, spread panic and chaos, cause inter-religious hatred and conflict in Russian society
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is already working with Muslim leaders it feels are loyal in order to condemn the violence:
On cue, Kremlin linked or controlled Muslim leaders in Russia are denouncing terrorism & calling for much stronger crackdown on extremists.
— John Schindler (@20committee) December 30, 2013
1424 GMT: FSB director Bortnikov has also announced that President Putin has authorised the deployment of Internal Troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) alongside paramilitaries and Cossacks to ensure security over the holidays, not only in Volgograd, but across the country.
1355 GMT: Police in Volgograd have dispersed a “people’s gathering” to commemorate the victims of the bomings.
1350 GMT: Freelance journalist Ilya Mouzykantskii (@ilyamuz) has put together a map of all terrorist attacks near Sochi since Russia was awarded the Olympic games:
1330 GMT: Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the FSB has announced that: “Active work is under way in the investigation of the two terrorist attacks in Volgograd. I think that we shall be able to reveal who is responsible for these crimes. Especially as there is a clear blueprint here.”
1300 GMT: Voice of Russia and NTV are reporting that the trolleybus bomber’s name is Pavel Pechenkin. He was a 32 year old former paramedic from Volzhsk in the Republic of Mari El. We are awaiting public confirmation from officials.
1228 GMT: There are evacuations in Moscow due to a perceived terrorist threat. Red Square has been evacuated according to LifeNews, after a large black bag was left by a woman at the Spasskaya Tower. According to the report, the woman was mentally unstable and claimed to have placed nothing but souvenir horse toys in the bag. Novaya Gazeta meanwhile reports that the Lenin Library metro station has been evacuated after another abandoned package alert.
1219 GMT: While the scale and frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia, and tragically, Volgograd, in recent times has shown that there are grave political problems that need tackling, President Putin has signed into effect a law that makes discussion of these issues dangerous in itself. On December 29, Putin signed a law that would make spreading separatist views a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison. In a state comprising numerous territories obtained through conquest, with a great degree of religious and ethnic division in some areas, shutting down political discussion of separatism does nothing but legitimise violence.
1209 GMT: Counter-insurgency operations in the Caucasus were underway at the exact same time as the second bomber struck today. RIA Novosti reports that three suspected militants were killed, in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, in a police operation that began at 8:30 (4:30 GMT)
Summary: Yesterday, just after lunchtime (08:45 GMT), a suicide bomber struck the central station with a massive bomb that went off just inside the entrance hall, as the bomber approached a security scanner. The death toll in the crowded station stands at 17 while 44 were injured, 37 of them seriously. Some survivors are being evacuated by air to Moscow to receive specialist treatment.
While Russian media had been quick to assign blame for the bombing to a “black widow” female suicide bomber in the same cast as the perpetrator of October’s bus bombing in the same city, officials are now saying they are unsure of the identity of the attacker. A second attack took place at around 8:10 (04:10 GMT) today. A bomber struck a trolleybus, packed with commuters, near a market in Volgograd’s Dzerzhinsky district. There are 14 reported casualties with a number of seriously injured survivors, among them an infant and a pregnant woman.
The bombings come two days after a car bombing in the North Caucasus city of Pyatigorsk, in which two people were killed after the bomb went off outside a traffic police building.