Rus­sia suf­fers wave of fake bomb scares

Re­sources of the se­cu­rity ser­vices tested by ‘tele­phone ter­ror­ism’

The Irish Times - - World News -

Olga Tere­bova was ter­ri­fied when her seven-year-old daugh­ter called in tears last Fri­day morn­ing to say a bomb had been planted at her school in Moscow and that she was be­ing evac­u­ated with her class mates. The scare – like many oth­ers that have dis­rupted work at public build­ings across Rus­sia in the past month – turned out to be a hoax, but not be­fore teach­ers had herded more than 1,000 pupils to safety in lo­cal parks, book stores and cafes.

A wave of fake bomb warn­ings that be­gan in the Siberian city of Omsk in mid- Septem­ber has swept across Rus­sia over the past five weeks, test­ing the re­sources of the se­cu­rity ser­vices and the re­silience of or­di­nary cit­i­zens to the om­nipresent ter­ror threat.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have been rushed out of schools, shop­ping malls, restau­rants and rail­way sta­tions in Rus­sian cities in re­sponse to anony­mous calls claim­ing that build­ings have been mined. So far no or­gan­i­sa­tion has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cam­paign.

The Krem­lin has coined the term “tele­phone ter­ror­ism” to de­scribe the new se­cu­rity scourge that, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates, has al­ready caused 300 mil­lion rou­bles (¤4.4 mil­lion) worth of eco­nomic dam­age.

Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vices – the suc­ces­sor agency to the Soviet-era KGB – is over­see­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but ad­mits that hunt­ing down the hoax­ers is prov­ing dif­fi­cult.

Alexan­der Bort­nikov, the di­rec­tor of the FSB, told re­porters in Moscow last week that four Rus­sian cit­i­zens – all liv­ing abroad – are sus­pected of or­gan­is­ing the false alarms, pos­si­bly with the help of ac­com­plices on the ground. Tele­phone ter­ror­ists had so far been able to con­ceal their where­abouts by re­ly­ing on In­ter­net Protocol (IP) tele­phone tech­nol­ogy that can be used to scram­ble the lo­ca­tion of call­ers, he said.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials have gen­er­ally avoided com­ment­ing in public about the bomb scares that now oc­cur on an al­most daily ba­sis, rais­ing ques­tions about the au­thor­i­ties’ abil­ity to root out the prob­lem.

In Moscow alone emer­gency ser­vices fielded more than 100 anony­mous calls last Fri­day warn­ing that bombs were about to ex­plode at schools, rail­way sta­tions and other lo­ca­tions. More than 160,000 peo­ple were evac­u­ated dur­ing the day from public build­ings in the cap­i­tal, In­ter­fax re­ported.

For Tere­bova, a part-time pho­tog­ra­pher and mother of two, the con­stant low-level threat is drain­ing. “I could bear it more eas­ily if it wasn’t for the chil­dren,” she says. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to run quickly to safety if you have kids and pushchairs with you.”

Com­puter geeks

Rus­sian state me­dia has spec­u­lated that the false alarms could be the work of Ukrainian cy­ber crim­i­nals, Is­lamist mil­i­tants or even Rus­sian Chris­tian Ortho­dox rad­i­cals. Some dis­miss the dan­ger, say­ing that rel­a­tively harm­less com­puter geeks with a sick sense of hu­mour are more likely to be the per­pe­tra­tors.

But Alexan­der Golts, an in­de­pen­dent Rus­sian mil­i­tary ob­server, be­lieves that, who­ever they are, the tele­phone ter­ror­ists must be taken ex­tremely se­ri­ously. “You need tech­ni­cal and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills, clear goals and, most prob­a­bly, a sub­stan­tial amount of cash” to plot and man­age such a sus­tained and wide­spread cam­paign, he said.

Rus­sian city dwellers have rea­son to fear ter­ror threats. On April 15th peo­ple were killed in St Peters­burg after a sui­cide bomber det­o­nated an ex­plo­sive de­vice in the metro. Is­lamic State has threat­ened to avenge the Krem­lin’s mil­i­tary cam­paign by wreak­ing vi­o­lent havoc on the Rus­sian main­land.

Yet for the most part Mus­covites have re­sponded with stoic pa­tience to the re­peated evac­u­a­tion of public build­ings in the cap­i­tal over the past few weeks. Golts sees the ab­sence of public panic as cause for alarm. The goal of the tele­phone ter­ror­ists could be to get peo­ple to drop their guard to the deadly dan­ger of bomb at­tacks, he says. “They re­peat the threat again and again and then when the axe fi­nally falls no­body is pay­ing at­ten­tion.”


In Moscow emer­gency ser­vices fielded more than 100 anony­mous calls last Fri­day warn­ing that bombs were about to ex­plode

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