"Textbook" Terrorism Comes to Russia

This story was filed by CBS News reporter Alexsei Kuznetsov in Moscow.

(AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)
At least 20 people were killed and more than a hundred were wounded when a suicide bomber drove a minibus packed with more than 400 pounds of explosives through the gates of a police station in the center of Nazran, the largest city in Ingushetia, in Russia's North Caucasus.

The police officers had just lined up for their morning check and operations briefing. Seconds before the yellow minibus rammed through the gates, the police commander instructed his officers that the vehicle had been reported stolen and was on the wanted list. "He was just reading out to us about this vehicle, when we saw it speeding into the courtyard," Vasanbek Pogorov, a wounded policeman, told Channel One television from his hospital bed.

The explosion was so powerful that nearby residential buildings had almost all their window panes smashed. The minibus driven by the terrorist was literally pulverized. The attack was one of the deadliest acts of terror in Russia in years.

"Ingushetia has, indeed, been quite a problem-ridden region in the North Caucasus," Kaloy Akhilgov, a spokesman for the President of Ingushetia told CBS News by phone from Nazran. "But even according to our standards, this terrorist act is a blow of a dramatic scale, enormous scale. We have not seen such a major act of terror in several years."

Indeed, the restive republic — like neighboring Chechnya and Daghestan — has been a hotbed of violent unrest and a constant headache for the Kremlin. The 15 years of separatist fighting in Chechnya has increasingly spilled over into surrounding provinces. In regions like Ingushetia and Daghestan, armed attacks on policemen, suicide bombings and assassinations of government officials have become almost the norm.

The authorities were quick to blame the police for what happened. "First of all, the work of the law-enforcement bodies should be carefully analyzed," Rashid Gaysanov, acting President of Ingushetia, told NTV television channel. "If the law-enforcement bodies are incapable of protecting even themselves, how could they be expected to protect anyone else?"

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the situation "unacceptable" and fired the republic's Interior Minister for his agency's "unsatisfactory performance".

Echoing Medvedev's words, local officials promised that security measures would be stepped-up in the republic. "Corrections will be made in the work of the Interior Ministry in the republic — policing against militants will be intensified, security around government buildings and on the roads will become tighter," Kaloy Akhilgov said.

However, some analysts believe harsh enforcement of the laws in the North Caucasus is fueling violence in the region, rather than effectively countering it. Some experts say the tough tactics are pushing disgruntled locals to join the militants' ranks.

"The policies of the federal authorities are counterproductive and do not lead to any improvement of the situation," Alexander Cherkasov, an expert on the North Caucasus and a member of the Memorial human rights group, told CBS News. "In fact, in many cases, they only make matters worse."

"In many areas, there is like a vendetta between the law enforcers and the militants — the police and the security bodies practice kidnappings and summary executions of those they suspect of being militants, while the latter retaliate by blowing government officials up," said Cherkasov. "Illegal actions cannot but bring illegal counter-actions."

(AP Photo)
Monday's blast came in the wake of a brazen attempt to assassinate the Kremlin-backed Republic's president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov (seen at left leaving a hospital, Aug. 10, 2009).

Last June, a suicide bomber rammed the President's motorcade in broad daylight. Yevkurov was badly wounded and has not yet returned to his duties. In a statement issued through his press service, Yevkurov said Monday's suicide attack was organized by militants trying to avenge recent successful mopping-up operations in the forests along the mountainous border between Chechnya and Ingushetia.

But unlike in June, Monday's bombing signaled a significant change in the terrorists' tactics.

"The militant underground has become more aggressive over the past few months," said Cherkasov. "The terrorists clearly knew that the police station was located right in the midst of a densely packed urban area. The timing of the explosion and the size of the charge inside the minivan clearly indicate that, in this particular case, the terrorists were deliberately targeting civilians alongside government officials and cops. What we are seeing there is a textbook version of terrorism."

The situation in Ingushetia and its neighbor regions is not likely to get better any time soon, warned Cherkasov. "Problems in regions like Ingushetia need to be approached with a brain. So far, the Kremlin is not showing any signs that it understands the situation appropriately."

"The Kremlin has built a system of government that provides for no feedback from Russia's regions, a system where no one is ready to bear responsibility for their mistakes, a system that has no team spirit," said Cherkasov. "As a rule, such systems are incapable of dealing with critical situations effectively."