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Islamists silent on Russia’s blame for airport blast

Russia’s Caucasus rebels remained conspicuously silent Sunday after investigators pinned the blame for a Moscow airport bombing that killed 35 people on a 20-year-old man from the restless region.

The Investigative Committee reported in Saturday findings that the suicide bomber was specifically targeting foreigners when he set off his charge on January 24 at the international arrivals hall of Russia’s busiest airport.

The Domodedovo blast killed eight foreign nationals in an attack that — if Moscow’s claims are true — would appear to mark a fundamental shift in the strategy followed by Islamists in their 15-year campaign against Russian rule.

“According to investigators, the act of terror was first and foremost aimed against foreign citizens,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in televised remarks.

Militants from the predominantly Muslim region that besides Chechnya also includes the impoverished republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia have claimed responsibility for most recent bombings.

But no Islamist organisation or leader has taken credit for an attack that came less than a year after a twin suicide bombing killed 40 people on their way to work on the Moscow subway.

News of the investigators’ airport report was also completely ignored by the three main websites used by Russia’s Islamists.

One of the biggest sites — kavkazcenter.com — this week even went out of its way to scoff at suggestions that it somehow approved of the Moscow attack.

Russian analysts of the region said it was premature to say that militants had indeed shifted their strategy and were now targeting foreigners in a bid to scare off visitors and lucrative investors.

“This is still a hypothesis that remains fairly hard to believe,” said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“You would need to see more than one attack to say that something like that was really happening,” said the analyst.

The blast comes at a time when Russia is preparing to show a modern new face to the world at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.

It underscores Russia’s continuing security worries and threatens to hamper President Dmitry Medvedev’s bid to bring foreign investments to a country that is slowly beginning to dig its way out of a deep financial hole.

Medvedev has himself said the bombing was primarily designed to scupper his appearance at Davos — a global investment forum at which he delivered a hastily-revised keynote address.

But Malashenko said the militants probably decided on Domodedovo for the simple reason that it was a soft target and not because they had Medvedev’s bridge-building mission in mind.

“If they really tried to kill as many foreigners as possible, they would have struck Sheremetyevo,” the analyst said in reference to a Moscow airport whose second wing only handles international flights.

“Domodedovo is simply the easiest target — this is something that has been known for a long time.”

Investigators on Saturday also reported making five arrests in connection with a New Year’s Eve blast in Moscow that press reports initially linked to the Domodedovo attack.

That link has since been refuted — as has the involvement of a so-called “Russian Wahabbi” in the airport incident.

But security officials said the arrests have helped them stave off another major bombing in Dagestan. A police source told RIA Novosti that the larger of the two explosives they had found weighed 15 kilogrammes (33 pounds).

Reports said that two smaller bombs did manage to destroy a local mobile phone tower and electrical substation.

A large department store was also evacuated in Moscow as bomb threats continued pouring in to major malls in the Russian capital throughout the weekend.