The Corner

Moscow Bombing: Let’s Not Rule Out al-Qaeda

During rush hour this morning in Moscow, two suicide bombers detonated explosive devices that killed, as of this writing, at least 38 individuals. The first exploded at Lubyanka station at 7:57 am and the second at Park Kultury station at 8:37 am (see these locations on a map here).

Some have concluded that the use of female suicide bombers in the terrorist attack shows how the Chechen conflict is “different from al-Qaeda” and “not about a religious ideology”. There is, however, no tactical difference between this attack and al-Qaeda attacks, and the links between the likely bombers — North Caucasus militants — and the al-Qaeda network is quite clear.

Al-Qaeda has used female suicide bombers. In Iraq, female bombers have taken numerous lives over a period of several years: As recently as February 1, one blew herself up near Baghdad, killing at least 54 pilgrims who were traveling to Karbala to mark the Shi’a holiday of Arba’in. In late January, unnamed U.S. security officials warned that another al-Qaeda franchise (there are three — in Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may be sending female suicide bombers to attack the United States.

No official statement has yet emerged claiming responsibility for today’s attacks in Moscow. However, it is relatively safe to assume that the attackers hailed from the North Caucasus, as the initial assessment by Russian officials has already concluded. After all, there have been no recent incidents of non–North Caucasus–linked terror in Moscow. We should not rush to judgment without a claimant, but it would be reasonable to assume that responsibility for today’s attacks lies with North Caucasus terrorists.

If this is true, today’s terror attack does have significant links to the al-Qaeda network through the North Caucasus insurgency. In April 2008, Ayman al Zawahiri declared the Caucasus to be one of the three primary fronts in al-Qaeda’s struggle. This followed the November 2007 declaration of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus (IEC) by North Caucasus insurgent leader Doku Umarov. Previous leaders of the movement, such as Aslan Maskhadov, had avoided such a move, which clearly aligned the North Caucasus insurgency with the global al-Qaeda movement. The IEC declaration represented the rhetorical culmination by which the most radical — and militant Islamist — portions of the North Caucasus militant groups have increasingly led the insurgency, moving from the support role that radical foreign fighters — including Zawahiri himself — played in the North Caucasus insurgency in the 1990s.

The links between the Caucasus insurgency and al-Qaeda and the lack of tactical difference between this attack and other al-Qaeda attacks should remind Americans that just because a target is Russian, it does not mean the perpetrator does not share links with the global al-Qaeda network. Russia certainly deserves significant blame for the deterioration of the situation in the North Caucasus, and it will not solve the conflict there through the targeted killings of militant leaders, such as the March 24 assassination of Anzor Astemirov, which some have speculated today’s bombings intended to avenge.

But, if we fail to recognize the likely al-Qaeda role in these attacks, we fail to recognize that we remain locked in a global struggle with an enemy that, through its franchises, affiliates, and emirates, seeks to continually harm American interests.

Charlie Szrom is senior analyst and program manager for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

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