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Tajiks, Taxi Drivers Among Hardest Hit in Deadly Moscow Airport Bombing

January 24, 2011 at 4:58 PM EDT
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Judy Woodruff talks to Washington Post Moscow correspondent Will Englund about the deadly explosion at Domodedovo Airport's international arrivals area, which prompted increased vigilance around the city out of fear of further attacks.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama condemned today’s attack, calling it an outrageous act of terrorism.

For more, I spoke a short time ago with reporter Will Englund of The Washington Post in Moscow.

Will Englund, thank you for talking with us. Reports are that at least 35 are dead. What more do you know at this point about what happened?

WILL ENGLUND, The Washington Post: Well, we know that a suicide bomber, perhaps more than one suicide bomber, went into the reception area in the international terminal at the Domodedovo Airport — it’s about 14 miles southwest of the southern limits of Moscow — in an unsecure area.

It’s after passengers have arrived, they have had their passports checked, picked up their luggage, gone through customs. All that is still secure. Then they come out through the doors, where people and drivers and friends and relatives are waiting for them.

And it was in that area that the bomber set off the bomb, did create a very large amount of damage in the airport and a lot of devastation to the people who were waiting there. We have reason to believe that a lot of the victims were probably taxi drivers looking for fares.

Also, I understand that there were a fair number of Tajik people living here in Moscow who had gone to the airport to meet friends and relatives coming off a flight from Dushanbe, the Tajik capital.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we know, or there — we have seen reports that — at least some eyewitness reports — that a man, a dark-complexion man was seen standing there holding a suitcase, and there was an explosion. Is there anything definitive about who was behind this?

WILL ENGLUND: No, there is not at this point, which I — I find a little bit surprising.

The Russian authorities have not really been pointing any fingers yet. There was a police report, a very unconfirmed one, I should say — and I think it was probably speculative — suggesting that one of the bodies looked like an Arab, raising the possibility that this wasn’t the usual Chechen or North Caucasian terrorist, but maybe somebody else.

Actually, I think we don’t know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are Russian authorities doing right now to investigate this?

WILL ENGLUND: Well, they’re — they’re promising to launch a thorough investigation.

But part of that investigation, as President Dmitry Medvedev outlined it this afternoon on national television, will be to find out what they did wrong, who — who slipped up and allowed something like this to happen.

I think a point here is that the attack was against a very potent target, a terrorist target, in other words, the air travel infrastructure, but, in fact, the terrorist was simply looking for a crowd of people. He could have done it in a mall. He could have done it in a railroad station, a school, as it has been done here in the past. But he chose an airport because I think of the added significance of air travel and terrorism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is any group, any — anyone claiming responsibility?

WILL ENGLUND: Not to my knowledge, not yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and there have also been, as you know, reports that authorities suspect that rebels from the Caucasus region, the North Caucasus region, might be behind this. Why would they have those suspicions?

WILL ENGLUND: Well, it’s a — it’s a pretty easy suspicion to have.

Most of the major terrorist acts in Russia over the last decade either clearly have been committed by separatists from the North Caucasus, or, at the very least, in some cases, authorities have blamed separatists from the North Caucasus.

You might remember the school siege in Beslan in 2005. There were bombings in the Moscow metro just last March, almost a year ago. These were carried out by Islamic separatists from the — from the Caucasus. Two planes were brought down by bombs in 2004. Chechen women were accused in that particular case.

So, it’s no stretch to imagine that this may have been carried out by the same groups. But, as I said, at this point, there really doesn’t — no evidence has been made public one way or another.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re also hearing, Will Englund, about Russian security operations in recent months in the North Caucasus looking for rebels.

Is there any more information about that and whether that could have — this could be in retaliation for that?

WILL ENGLUND: Well, although Chechnya has been really very significantly quieted down from the really bad times in the — when they were at war there in the mid-1990s and then again in the early 2000s — the Kremlin has got kind of a firm grip on the capital city of Grozny — there is still this low-level war going on, not only in Chechnya, but in neighboring Dagestan and on — to the east, and Ingushetia to the west, just small little battles, little explosions at police buildings, followed by security sweeps through villages in the mountains, both sides taking casualties.

One thing that I think a lot of Americans would be surprised to hear is that the Russians are taking as many casualties in the Caucasus right now as Americans are in Afghanistan. It’s on the same level of intensity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s — you’re right. It’s something that doesn’t get the attention here that one might expect.

Well, Will Englund with The Washington Post, thank you very much.

WILL ENGLUND: Thank you.