Islamic group claims responsibility for Russia crashes
MOSCOW – Russian officials said Friday they detected traces of a high explosive in the wreckage of one of two crashed jetliners, branding it the work of terrorists, while an Islamic group claimed its suicide attackers brought down both planes because of the war in Chechnya.
At least one crash was “the result of a terrorist act,” a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, Sergei Ignatchenko, told the ITAR-Tass news agency. In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said evidence was growing that both crashes “were acts of terrorism.”
Russia’s leaders didn’t speculate publicly about who might be responsible for the crashes, which killed a total of 90 people. But officials confirmed they were looking into the backgrounds of two female passengers with Chechen names who booked tickets on the doomed flights at the last minute and who were the only victims whose relatives did not contact authorities.
In addition, the explosive hexogen detected on plane parts is the same type that Russian officials reported being used in earlier attacks by Chechen separatists.
On an Internet site connected to Islamic extremists, a statement from a militant group said the planes were attacked in retaliation for Russia’s war in the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya and warned it was only the first in a series of planned operations. There was no way to check the claim’s authenticity.
The official announcement that terrorists had struck Russia’s civil aviation industry – an essential transport sector for this vast nation – prompted only a low-key response. The government avoided drastic measures such as closing airspace or grounding flights, and President Vladimir Putin made no public comment on the evidence of explosives.
Analysts said the government was trying to avoid an embarrassing admission that Chechen separatists had succeeded again in striking at Russia – just days before a Sunday election in Chechnya to replace the small republic’s assassinated pro-Kremlin president.
A Chechen connection to the crashes probably would intensify the Kremlin’s already hard line in refusing to negotiate with the separatists, although it also would emphasize the failure of the military and security services to defeat the rebels.
“Here’s the answer to how effective our politics in Chechnya have been,” Russian legislator Vladimir Ryzhkov was quoted as saying in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Security analyst Andrei Soldatov said a Chechen connection could bring more suffering to that region, where Russian troops have been widely accused of abusing and abducting civilians.
“The government will now be able to say that the fight against separatists in Chechnya comes under the roof of international terrorism. As soon as they say that, you can forget about human rights in the region,” Soldatov said.