‘Russian bin Laden’ investigated in attacks
seen any evidence of that.”
But like the Boston bombings, the attacks apparently were aimed at killing innocent civilians at soft targets, where the attackers knew they would have a solid chance of avoiding security and police.
That may explain why this week’s bombings did not directly target the Russian city of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are slated to begin Feb. 7 and where some of the tightest security in history is in place. Instead of trying to infiltrate that, the suicide bombers carried out their mission in Volgograd, a key transportation hub for reaching Sochi, but roughly 400 miles away.
It is not entirely clear, meanwhile, how closely aligned Umarov is with al Qaeda. The State Department said in 2011 that “Umarov has issued several public statements encouraging followers to commit violent acts against … declared enemies, which include the United States, as well as Israel, Russia, and the United Kingdom.”
At the time, the State Department authorized a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Umarov’s location. The reward announcement described him as “the senior leader and military commander” of the Caucasus Emirates and said the group was “responsible for carrying out suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism.”
“CE has employed violent acts under Umarov’s command, involving improvised explosive devices (IED), vehicleborn IEDs, and suicide bombings,” the 2011 announcement said.
The extent to which Umarov and other Chechen jihadists are linked to global al Qaeda-linked groups remains a subject of debate. For example, State Department announcements about the Chechen extremist have made no direct reference to al Qaeda. Specific attacks that he has directed and claimed responsibility for during recent years have resembled those of a locally focused terrorist.
“Umarov has claimed responsibility for various attacks including the 2010 Moscow subway bombings, which killed 40 people,” according to the State Department’s announcement in 2011. The document also noted that Umarov “claimed to have masterminded the 2009 Nevsky Express train bombing, which killed 28 people” in Russia.
On the other hand, the top terrorism monitoring arm of the United Nations associated Umarov with al Qaeda in 2011, saying he participated in financing, planning and facilitating, and recruiting for various al Qaeda-minded groups outside Russia.
News reports over the past year have suggested that has many as 200 Chechen Islamists have moved to Syria, where one — Omar Shishani — is reported to have been appointed to a key leadership position by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which U.S. officials say is the top al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria.