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Moscow Vows to Root Out Terrorists After Attacks

March 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Russian authorities vowed to strike back at rebels from the North Caucasus region that they blame for two suicide bomb attacks that struck Moscow's subway system, killing dozens of rush hour passengers. Jeffrey Brown talks to William Mauldin, deputy Moscow bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal for more.
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JEFFREY BROWN: For more on today’s attacks, I spoke a short time ago to William Mauldin, deputy Moscow bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires.

William Mauldin, thanks for joining us.

What at this point do authorities know about who did this and why?

WILLIAM MAULDIN, The Wall Street Journal: Well, they say it’s two women who were suicide bombers on the metro trains this morning.

And they believe that they are linked to groups in the North Caucasus, militant groups. It may or may not be related to Chechnya, the restive region that Russia has fought two wars with when the region sought independence.

But, at this point, they just know that it’s — it is two women who were the suicide bombers. And they suspect a relationship to North Caucasus groups.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit about the Moscow metro system. It’s very big. It’s very busy. Has it been considered very vulnerable? How much security is there?

WILLIAM MAULDIN: There is — there is security at many stations, but the system handles so many passengers a day, that it’s very difficult to control all the entrances and exits.

In fact, the — the turnstiles are just sort of empty gaps. You swipe your card and you walk right — right through. There are a few monitors in the metro. And, sometimes, there are policemen there with dogs.

But, even tonight, security is very light at the metro, except at this station, which is one of the ones struck by the bombers.

JEFFREY BROWN: We mentioned that one of the stations hit today is directly under the security service, the Russian security service. Is that being given some direct significance by authorities?

WILLIAM MAULDIN: Oh, yes. It’s believed that it could be a message for the authorities.

The FSB, which is the successor today to the former KGB, is housed in the Lubyanka, an infamous building just over to our right.

And the metro station was beneath that. The authorities have had several anti-terror operations in the North Caucasus recently that have killed some suspected militants from Chechnya and other regions.

And it’s widely believed that — that this attack coming right beneath the FSB headquarters at the Lubyanka is some kind of message for the Russian authorities. It’s very personal for them.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have been in Moscow, I understand, for about four years. How much of a — can you give us a feel for it there? How much of a surprise is something like this? Have people relaxed a bit in recent years, or is there a sense of alert there that — that stays constant?

WILLIAM MAULDIN: Well, people, naturally, have relaxed to some degree as the terrorist attacks have faded from Moscow in 2004.

There have been no major attacks in the city since then. So, a lot of the tension that I saw in my first visit to Moscow in 2001 had melted away a little bit. Now, of course, that’s coming back. We talked to a lot of people today who are worried, who are resigned to using the metro, but worried about it, who are worried that that fight, which had been banished to the faraway regions of Russia, has come back to the capital, where the largest group of people live.

So, it is a little bit of a concern that — that that is coming closer. This started in November, where there was a bombing that derailed the train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. And now we have something even closer to the home of everyone living in Moscow and to the federal government here as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what immediate signals are you getting from the government as to a possible response to today’s action?

WILLIAM MAULDIN: Well, so far, we have had a little bit of vague words from President Medvedev. He promised a harsh reaction. He promised to fight the battle to the end with the terrorists.

And Vladimir Putin, who is now the prime minister, has cut short his trip to the Krasnoyarsk city in — in Siberia. And he’s coming to work on the problem as well. But the precise manner of their attacks is — is a little bit unclear.

There have been ongoing — there have been ongoing fights in the regions of the North Caucasus. But it’s unclear how they are going to take the — how they are going to take this conflict to Moscow and seek the terrorists here. It is such a big city. There are so — There are so many metros. There are so many possible targets.

JEFFREY BROWN: William Mauldin of The Wall Street Journal, thank you very much.

WILLIAM MAULDIN: Thank you very much.