Bomb threats across Russia, likely from the Islamic State, cause mass evacuations

Dozens of buildings including schools and malls in more than 12 Russian cities have been evacuated since Sunday after authorities received a series of anonymous bomb threats, the Interfax news agency reports. Virtually all the terrorist attacks in Russia in the past 20 years have come from the large Chechen Muslim areas in Russia as well as from insurgents linked to groups like ISIS.

Moscow Times  Interfax cited a law enforcement official in Chelyabinsk as saying that the evacuations were prompted by bomb scares across cities in Russia. “There’s reason to assume this was all organized abroad,” the official was cited as saying.

The wave of evacuations began in Omsk early on Sunday, when law enforcement cleared several cinemas, schools, malls and City Hall, Interfax reports. 

That evening, eleven buildings were also cleared in Ryazan after authorities received phone calls warning a bomb had been planted in several malls. On Monday, similar actions were taken in Chelyabinsk and Kopeisk, Ufa and Stavropol, which received as many as 42 bomb scares, Interfax reports.

The bomb scares continued on Tuesday when all schools in Perm were evacuated, alongside several malls and a bus and train station, Interfax reports, citing local journalists.

Government buildings were also ordered to be emptied in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and bus stations were evacuated in Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, according to Meduza.

Terrorism is back in Russian headlines. In the month since a bomber detonated a homemade explosive device on the St. Petersburg metro (below), killing 16 people and wounding dozens more, the country has been further shaken by a series of smaller attacks and arrests.

A bomb with about 2.2 pounds of explosives detonated in a subway car at the Tekhnologichesky Institut station. A second explosive device rigged with shrapnel was found and defused at the Vosstaniya Square station.

In May, security services announced they had arrested 12 Central Asian (Muslim) recruiters from the Islamic Jihad—Dzhamaat Mozhakhedov* movement posing as construction workers in Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave. The 32-year-old leader of the group reportedly had connections to Syria. 

CFR The most notorious and devastating attack came in September 2004, when Basayev ordered an attack on a school in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia. More than three hundred people died in the three-day siege, most of them children.

Since then, violence has generally targeted individual officials and government offices rather than large groups of civilians. Experts say there are several ties between the al-Qaeda network and Chechen groups. Attacks include:

  • An August 1999 bombing of a shopping arcade and a September 1999 bombing of an apartment building in Moscow that killed sixty-four people.
  • Two bombings in September 1999 in the Russian republic of Dagestan and southern Russian city of Volgodonsk. Controversy still surrounds whether these attacks were conclusively linked to Chechens.
  • A bomb blast that killed at least forty-one people, including seventeen children, during a military parade in the southwestern town of Kaspiisk in May 2002. Russia blamed the attack on Chechen terrorists.
  • The October 2002 seizure of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater, where approximately seven hundred people were attending a performance. Russian Special Forces launched a rescue operation, but the opium-derived gas they used to disable the hostage-takers killed more than 120 hostages, as well as many of the terrorists. Basayev took responsibility for organizing the attack, and three Chechen-affiliated groups are thought to have been involved.
  • A December 2002 dual suicide bombing that attacked the headquarters of Chechnya’s Russian-backed government in Grozny. Russian officials claim that international terrorists helped local Chechens mount the assault, which killed eighty-three people.
  • A three-day attack on Ingushetia in June 2004, which killed almost one hundred people and injured another 120.
  • Street fighting in October 2005 that killed at least eighty-five people. The fighting was in the south Russian city of Nalchik after Chechen rebels assaulted government buildings, telecommunications facilities, and the airport.
  • An attack on the Nevsky Express, used by members of the business and political elite, in November 2009 killed twenty-seven people.
  • In March 2010, two female suicide bombers detonated bombs in a Moscow metro station located near the headquarters of the security services, killing thirty-nine people. Islamist Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the bombing; he had also claimed responsibility for the derailment of the Nevsky Express.
  • Two days after the metro station bombing in March 2010, two bombs exploded in the town of Kizlyar, in Russia’s North Caucasus, killing at least twelve people.