Suicide bombings seen rising in Russian region near Olympics
MOSCOW — Islamic extremists in southern Russia are increasingly using suicide bombers, and the government's offensive against radicals in the North Caucasus has led to an increase in civilian casualties, a report shows.
The number of civilians killed in clashes rose 20 percent last year to 104, even as the total number of deaths fell 24 percent from 2012, according to data collected by Caucasian Knot, a Moscow-based news and analysis group that tracks the region. While there were fewer attacks in total, the number of suicide bombings climbed to nine from seven, the report showed.
Global attention has turned to Russia's North Caucasus region, site of two decades of deadly conflicts including two wars with separatists, because of the Boston Marathon bombers' ties to the area and preparations to hold the Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi. With the games due to start Feb. 7, the government stepped up efforts to subdue violence in the region.
"Most civilians became victims in the North Caucasus because of law-enforcement operations rather than terrorist acts," Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of Caucasian Knot, said in an interview in Moscow. "The use of brutal force mobilized protest, and this is likely to increase the number of suicide attacks in 2014."
Deaths dropped to 529 last year from 700, with 26 percent fewer militants killed and 39 percent fewer law-enforcement personnel dead, according to Bloomberg calculations based on Caucasian Knot's data. Shvedov increased last year's total by one today after documenting an additional incident.
There have been 124 suicide bombings in Russia in the past 13 years, with most of the perpetrators trained in the Dagestan region on the Caspian coast, according to Shvedov.
Russian troops mounted security sweeps in Dagestan on Jan. 21 as new threats emerged against the games in Sochi. Three days before the offensive, Islamic extremists released a video claiming responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Volgograd that killed more than 30 people last month and renewing threats against the Olympics.
The multiethnic region remained the most violent part of the North Caucasus last year, the report showed. Last year, 300 people were killed and 341 wounded in Dagestan, according to Caucasian Knot. That included 82 civilian deaths, or almost 80 percent of the total for the North Caucasus, the report showed.
The regions of Kabardino-Balkaria, with 31 deaths and 92 injuries, and Chechnya, with 38 people killed and 62 wounded, followed Dagestan in terms of violence last year, according to the report.
British government officials are warning that more terrorist attacks in Russia are "very likely to occur" before or during next week's Winter Olympics in Sochi, the BBC reported Monday. The Imarat Kavkaz group is the main danger to the games, the BBC said. Doku Umarov, the group's leader who threatened in July 2013 to attack the Winter Olympics, is dead, according to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya.