October 31, 2007

New Terror In Southern Russia?

Russians in the car-making city of Togliatti awoke to a deadly bus bombing that has already claimed eight lives, and may claim more. The bus attack appears to be a terrorist strike, but given the nexus of crime networks in the city, the answer may wind up being more complicated:

A bomb ripped through a packed passenger bus in a southern Russian city Wednesday morning, killing eight people and wounding 56, regional officials said.

The bomb exploded around 8 a.m. local time at a busy intersection in the Volga River city of Togliatti, the center of Russian car-making since Soviet times. Officials said at least seven of the wounded were in grave condition and many of the victims were students on their way to university, according to the Russian news agency Interfax .

"The preliminary scenario is a terrorist attack," said the regional governor Vladimir Artyakov in comments broadcast on state television. Russian media also reported that investigators are examining the possibility that a passenger was transporting the bomb and it went off accidentally.

Certainly that would make sense. The low-grade war in the Caucasus that the Russians have fought against Islamists has not ended, although it has become more quiet in recent years. The Islamists who co-opted those wars from the original separatist movements in Chechnya and other regions have as much compunction about killing civilians in Russia as they do anywhere else, and perhaps less so there than most places, as the massacre of children in Beslan demonstrated.

They may not be the only suspects, or even the best suspects, however. Togliatti could be called the Russian Detroit for its industry, but perhaps the Russian Chicago for its mob wars. In the past 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Togliatti has seen over 500 killings in gang warfare, mostly over car sales. A quick Google search finds a number of mail-order bride operations running from Togliatti as well, which may also fuel the gangs in the city.

A bus bomb would be a rather blunt instrument for a gang-war hit. Most of the people killed and injured were bound for the local university, and al-Qaeda likes to target civilian transportation. They don't usually use TNT, which was the explosive used in this attack, but it might have been the most handy explosive available. Islamists usually add shrapnel to their bombs, something missing from this attack, according to Reuters. The Togliatti gangs use TNT bombs without shrapnel to settle scores.

Unfortunately for the Russians in Togliatti, they have a plethora of troublemakers. Hopefully, no other attacks will follow.


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