The two suicide bombers who carried out the Moscow attack were thought to be part of a suicide squad trained in Pakistan’s al-Qaeda strongholds sent to the capital to target the city’s transport system.
Russian security services warned in December that there were two attack teams primed to carry out attacks, sparking fears there could still be terrorists at large who were prepared to carry out another attack.
Intelligence sources said that one of the squads was likely to have established a base, at a house in Moscow, where the suicide belts to be used in attacks were assembled.
Russian security sources said yesterday that a male and female suicide bomber from the Black Widow brigades had carried out the bombing together. The attack had been closely supervised by three accomplices, who had watched from a distance and are now being sought by the authorities.
A Russian security official said the bomb that ripped through Moscow’s Domodedovo airport was carried by a woman who mingled in the crowd at arrivals. She then either set the bomb off herself or someone else detonated it using a remote-control device.
An eyewitness said the woman had been dressed in black and had worn a veil, suggesting she may have been a ‘Black Widow’ suicide bomber from the North Caucasus region out to revenge the killing of her husband by Russian security forces.
“The explosion occurred the moment the presumed female suicide bomber opened her bag,” the security source told the RIA Novosti news agency. “The terrorist was accompanied by a man. He was standing beside her and (the blast) tore off his head.”
Intelligence services have been embarrassed by the revelation that informants had warned of an attack on an airport in the Russian capital just weeks before the incident. Security experts said the tip-off had revealed that a criminal gang based in the Moscow suburbs was assisting a Chechen bombing making squad and that a suicide cell was travelling from a training camp.
A newspaper close to Russia’s FSB security service published what it claimed was a warning to Moscow police issued in December that said there was credible intelligence that a suicide squad made up of three women and one man from Chechnya was headed to Moscow.
The memo said the team had spent time in Pakistan and Iran and that one of the women had a relative with a flat in Moscow that might be used as a bomb making factory. Another group of five Islamist militants trained in Pakistan was also expected to cross into Russia soon, it added.
An al-Qaeda linked website said that the group Islamic Caucasus Emirate, led by the rebe Doku Umarov, was poised to claim it had staged the attack. It said that Russia’s harsh military measures against independence activists in the Caucasus had provoked the attack. It said: “You disbelievers are the firewood of Hell. You will enter it.”
The daily Kommersant newspaper said security service officials were alerted to the extent of the threat when a woman accidentally blew herself up on New Year’s Eve in Moscow. It later emerged that her husband was in jail for being a member of an Islamist terror group and that she and a girlfriend had been sent to Moscow from the internal Muslim republic of Dagestan to commit an act of terror.
Russian media published a grisly picture of the male terrorist’s severed head that was being circulated around police and security services in the troubled mostly Muslim North Caucasus region to see if anyone recognised him.
The region, which includes restive internal Russian republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, is in the grip of a growing Islamist insurgency and has served as a launching pad in the past for a series of deadly strikes on civilian targets in Moscow and other cities.