Moscow – The bombing at the metro in Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, has put the authorities before new challenges most notably after it was revealed that the suspected perpetrator was a Kyrgyzstan native.
Russian security authorities have still not uncovered how the suspect, Akbarzhon Jalilov, was able to carry bags laden with explosives all the way to the metro without being detected. It is certain that the security agencies will be revising their measures at transportation hubs.
Furthermore, the fact that the suspected suicide bomber came from central Asia will likely complicate Russia’s economic ties with these central states because the perpetrator had allegedly moved to Russia for economic reasons. The Russian authorities are now facing the challenges of curbing future attacks from natives of those countries in a manner that will not negatively impact central Asian foreign laborers working in Russia even though authorities always assert after any terror attack that terrorism has no nationality or religion.
This will require sensitive measures and close cooperation between the security institutions of the former Soviet Union states.
On April 3, residents of St. Petersburg started their day as they normally would, but at 14:40 a bomb went off in a high-speed metro cart, killing 14 people and wounding around 50.
The next day, Russia’s Investigative Committee, announced that it had identified Jalilov as the suspect. He was born in the region of Osh in Kyrgyzstan in 1995. Kyrgyz intelligence sources later confirmed his identity, revealing that he and his family had moved to St. Petersburg and had later obtained Russian nationality.
The investigations that followed then focused on whether he had acted alone or if he was linked to any extremist groups. The sources speculated that Jalilov may have been influenced by the “Tawheed and Jihad” extremist group that is involved in the fighting in Syria.
They revealed that hundreds of Uzbeks, who are natives of central Asian countries, have joined the ranks of this organization. Many of these extremists also hail from Osh, Jalilov’s hometown.
The truth is that some sides are trying to link the St. Petersburg bombing to the war in Syria and Russia’s involvement in it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quick to dismiss these claims.
The ISIS militant group had however urged targeting Russia over its military intervention in Syria and since then, several attacks had taken place against it, but they were mainly focused in the Caucasus states. Russian security forces announce on an almost daily basis operations taking place there.
Observers noted that Russia could have fallen victim to major terrorist attacks had it not been for the security forces’ early crackdown on extremists and suspected terrorists. One of the most important operations took place in Dagestan on March 5 when authorities arrested a four-member ISIS-linked sleeper cell that was planning on staging attacks against members of the security agencies.
According to the Russian national counter-terrorism body, authorities in 2016 managed to eliminate 140 terrorist fighters and 24 armed gangs and to arrest 900 terrorists and gang members that are affiliated with them. They also succeeded in confiscating large amounts of weapons, destroying 50 arms manufacturing factories and defusing 190 hand-made explosives.
In March as well, security forces arrested a Tajik national affiliated with ISIS, who was planning on carrying out a suicide attack during Women’s Day celebrations in Moscow. He confessed during investigations that he had fought alongside the terror group in Syria. He has since been deported to Tajikistan.
In December 2016, security forces announced the arrest of four suspects from Tajikistan and Moldova for planning to carry out a major attack in Moscow. They confessed to receiving directives from an ISIS operative in Turkey’s Istanbul city. The confession was then followed by a wave of arrests against central Asian natives in Russia.
Despite these arrests, the Russian people have so far showed tolerance towards the thousands of central Asian youths working in Russian cities. Similar detentions and security incidents in the future may however alter this tolerant view, which may consequently put the Russian authorities in a difficult position of averting a crisis between Russians and central Asian nationals.