The Russian city bombed on December 29 was struck again today, December 30 as an apparent suicide attacker set off an explosion on a city bus, killing 14 people.
The city of Volgograd is a major transportation hub leading onto Russia’s southern Caucasus region, the area where the 2014 Winter Olympics are set to open on February 7. The previous day, a suicide bomber killed 17 people at Volgograd’s railway station. The back-to-back bombings have driven home fears that terrorism could strike the Olympic Games, just weeks away.
According to Reuters, investigators described shrapnel from the two Russian city bomb blasts as identical, indicating the twin attacks were carried out by the same organization.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but authorities believe they are linked to separatists in Dagestan, a region that has been a central flashpoint for Islamic extremist activity.
Clashes between militant forces and Russian security troops in Dagestan have claimed more casualties among the Russians than the United States suffered in Afghanistan, according to an overview of Olympic security in The Washington Post.
Russia has spent $2 billion on security in Sochi, the site of the games. But terrorists have targeted surrounding cities, such as Volgograd, instead.
A report in the Christian Science Monitor identified the likely mastermind of the Russian city bombs as Doku Umarov, a rebel leader from the breakaway republic of Chechnya. In July, Umarov, who previously claimed responsibility for a 2010 Moscow bombing campaign that killed 40 people, posted a video vowing to disrupt the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried on our land by the Black Sea,” Umarov said in the July video message. “We as mujahadeen are required not to allow that, using any methods that Allah allows us.”
Umarov, leader of the group Caucasus Emirate, which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization, is the most-wanted outlaw in Russia. The State Department has issued a $5 million reward for information that leads to his capture, according to CNN.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked his international reputation on his country’s ability to host a peaceful Olympics. To put his best face forward to the world, he has recently released prominent political prisoners such as a group of Greenpeace activists imprisoned since last summer, the dissident billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and members of the activist rock group and performance art collective Pussy Riot.
But the Russian city bombings of the past two days have overshadowed those developments.
Despite the recent Russian city bombings, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said he expects a “safe and secure” Winter Olympic Games in February.