Russia says militant possibly behind Volgograd bombings killed in Dagestan shootout

Interior Ministry members stand guard in front of the train station where a bomber detonated explosives in Volgograd Dec. 29, 2013. Reuters

MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- Russian investigators say security forces killed a militant who may have helped train the two suicide bombers who struck the southern city of Volgograd.

  The bombings of a train station and an electric trolleybus in late December killed 34 people and heightened security fears ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, which begin on Friday.

Russia's counterterrorism agency last week named the suspected bombers and said they were members of a terrorist group based in Dagestan, a republic in Russia's North Caucasus region that is the center of an Islamic insurgency. Two suspected accomplices have been arrested.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Russian investigative agency said the militant killed in a shootout in Dagestan may have been involved in training the bombers and sending them to Volgograd.

Two brothers identified as Magomednabi and Tagir Batirov, suspected of helping send the bombers to Volgograd, were detained in Dagestan last week, according to Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee, which said the investigation was continuing. 

A video posted on the Internet two weeks ago by a group identifying itself as Vilayat Dagestan featured what it said were the Volgograd bombers donning explosive belts and warning President Vladimir Putin to expect a "present" at the Olympics

 The blasts were the deadliest attacks in Russia outside the North Caucasus, the cradle of an Islamist insurgency whose leader has urged fighters to prevent the Olympics going ahead, since a bomber killed 37 people at a Moscow airport in 2011.

Russia's security forces launched a major security crackdown on suspected militants in the southern region following the attacks, raiding various homes and buildings around Sochi. Early in January officials claimed to have killed seven militants -- including an alleged "black widow" female would-be suicide bomber -- in a raid in Dagestan.

On Tuesday,  a top U.S. counterterrorism official said there were "a number of specific threats" aimed at the Games in Sochi, with the greatest danger coming from the Caucasus Emirate -- the umbrella group believed to be behind most of the violence in the region.

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress the U.S. and Russia were tracking threats of "varying degrees" of credibility. He said potential attacks seem more likely outside the venues for the games, in the area or region around Sochi.

Olsen's warning was in sharp contrast remarks made last week by the man in charge of security for the Sochi Games, who said "a real threat to the Games does not exist."

Speaking at a news conference in Sochi last Thursday, Alexey Lavrishev insisted there were no indications from Russian intelligence, or the "information of our partners" suggesting a direct threat to the event.

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