One day before the Olympic torch was to arrive at Volgograd Monday, two Russian-speaking men, machine guns at hand, appeared in a video on the Internet, claiming responsibility for recent suicide attacks in Volgograd and promising that there were more assaults to come in Sochi during the Olympic games.
Last December’s terrorist atacks at Volgograd cost at least 34 innocent lives.
Now, it is the Vilayat Dagestan group that says its members carried out the attacks.
Vilayat Dagestan has been trying to establish a Muslim state in the northern part of the Caucasus mountains.
The two men in the video present so much detail from the two attacks, it leaves Russian investigators with two options. Either somebody leaked the details, an option they consider implausible, or the Dagestani movement has been indeed involved right from the start and its two spokesmen know exactly whereof they speak.
In any case, what the two men had to say contradicts what the Russian police probe has considered the most probable course of events.
Shortly after the train station attack, police were convinced a so-called “Black Widow” named Oksana Aslanov was the culprit. The 26-year-old had been married twice, in both cases to Caucasian separatists, and both of her husbands died in battles with Russian security forces. Russian police found Aslanov’s body parts close to the spot where the bomb had gone off. They hypothesized Aslanov was stopped by security at the train station entrance and seeing she wouldn’t be able to get through, she exploded the bomb she was trying to carry into the station. If she managed to get any further, they said, the toll would have been much higher.
Russian investigators also suspected another person, a 32-year-old former nurse Pavel Pechonkin. The Central Russia native has been suspected of being a part of a terrorist group in Dagestan. According to this theory, an officer stopped him by the security gate at the station, whereupon Pechonkin pulled the trigger.
The two Vilayat Dagestan spokesmen wouldn’t say specifically who the suicide murderers were. They would limit themselves to saying two basic things: it was their group that masterminded the attacks, and it was their group that has a few surprise gifts in store for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In an almost hour-long video, they said (in verbatim translation from the Russian language): “If you stage this Olympiad, we shall give you a present for all that innocent Muslim blood shed all over the world, in Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria. … And we will have presents for tourists who come there, too.”
The two Dagestani spokesmen also said their attacks heeded earlier calls by Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed Emir (Prince) of the Northern Caucasus region. Russians have considered Umarov a major threat the last 15 years but, according to Chechen president Razym Kadyrov, Umarov was killed recently by what he termed were “Russian agents.”
Kadyrov said he based his statement on intercepted communications between two North Caucasian insurgents who had been debating Umarov’s succession.
Quite understandably, Russian government officials would neither confirm nor deny Kadyrov’s revelation.
Russian authorities would not, again, very understandably, comment on what security measures they are introducing (or have already introduced)n in Sochi and its environs. Of course, some of them have become obvious right from the start. Thorough searches of anyone entering the area, including whatever they happen to be carrying along, have become regular occurrence. And Russian government’s official newspaper, Rossiyskaia gazeta, has published a few edicts that seem to show the authorities’ ways of thinking.
For example: whoever happens to see anything that seems to look suspicious (no matter how) must inform the nearest security authorities immediately. No face covers are allowed, either.
If you wish to distribute any political or religious literature anywhere, including the venues, you’re out of luck. It’s forbidden.
If you wish to display banners or flags, there is no political or extremist propaganda, commercial advertising or foul language allowed. Who decides what is extremist or foul? Why, government officials, that’s who.
If you are a fan who comes from abroad to cheer her or his country’s athletes on, and intend to use a banner or a flag to do so, you will require a notarized translation into the Russian language to get permission to display your signs of allegiance anywhere. Not only that: a fire department’s certificate confirming your signs of fandom aren’t flammable will be a must, too.
Remember the vuvuzelas (a.k.a. lepatata Mambu in its original Tswana language)? Those were the 65-centimere-long horns used during the recent world cup of soccer in South Africa. Emitting a pretty loud sound (it would be difficult to say it was music), the vuvuzelas will not be allowed in the Sochi Olympic venues. Also off-limits: banners bigger than two metres by a meter-and-a-half. Speaking of which: rods to carry the flags or banners on are limited to 150 centimetres in length.
If you want an exception, you’ve got to ask for it at least two days ahead of the date you want to use it, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed you won’t.
Beverage containers that hold more than half a litre of beverage are banned. And security will check whether the fluid contained in the bottle is potable or not. How? We’re supposed to wait and see.
Another couple of hints: there’s no need to carry too much cash on you. In fact, it’s outright dangerous to carry much (never mind too much) cash around. Also, just as they like to say in the airports: keep a constant and vigilant eye on all your belongings. And avoid photographing military or otherwise strategic sites. Based on personal experience, don’t expect warning signs telling you this is a military or otherwise strategic site, either.
The Olympic Games must succeed without a hitch, president Putin has decreed.
Whether the Northern Caucasian Muslim insurgents will obey, now, that’s another matter altogether.