'Lone wolf strategie' in actie

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'Lone wolf strategie' in actie

Postby Führer » Sat Mar 13, 2010 2:42 am

28 Aug 2006

Lone nationalists terrorize Russia
Last week's market bombing in Moscow that killed 11 was a racist attack that shows just how dangerous Russia's xenophobic youth have become in the face of law enforcement that turns a blind eye.

By Simon Saradzhyan in Moscow


The bombing last week of a busy outdoor market in Moscow by a trio of young Russians signals the growing threat posed by "lone nationalists" and "individual terrorists" as opposed to nationalist groups, whose activities are easier to track. It also highlights the preparedness of violent xenophobic youth to inflict heavier casualties as they expand their arsenal - an arsenal that was once limited to metal bars and knives.

On the morning of 21 August, three Moscow students walked into the city's northeastern Cherkizovsky market - where mostly natives of Asia trade - carrying two heavy bags containing chemical detonators and canisters with liquid explosives. Two of the students - 20-year-old Udmurtia native Oleg Kostyrev and 20-year-old Muscovite Ilya Tikhomirov - planted the bags outside a Vietnamese cafe next to a gas canister used for cooking. The third suspect - 18-year-old student Valery Zhukhovtsev - remained outside to facilitate the getaway, according to Moscow city prosecutors.

Authorities said that Kostyrev and Tikhomirov attempted to flee the scene after planting the bags, but market traders noted the suspicious behavior of the two visibly nervous young men. The traders apprehended the pair outside the market shortly after the bombs went off, killing 11 people (two of them Russians and the others immigrants from the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and wounding 30 others. Zhukhovtsev had earlier managed to escape, but was apprehended by police four days later.

The decision to bomb the Evrazia segment of the Cherkizovsky market was made because there were "too many natives of Asia" there, Kostyrev and Tikhomirov said during their interrogation, according to Moscow's chief prosecutor Yuri Syomin.

All three were charged with racially motivated multiple murders committed in an organized group.

A day after authorities pressed charges, the suspects' lawyers retracted their clients' initial testimonies, arguing that all the three were merely hooligans who had planned only to scare the traders with the explosion, not kill them.

According to Moscow prosecutors, the three students were operating on their own, and none belonged to any nationalist groups. "All of the detainees are loners," one of the investigators involved in the case told the Russian news agency Interfax on 22 August, though he said that all three had communicated with other nationalist-minded youth via the internet.

Individuals or small groups, such as the Cherkizovsky market bombing trio, are much more difficult to infiltrate and neutralize before they strike, a source in the Federal Security Service (FSB) told the Russian daily Kommersant on Monday.

This phenomenon of "individual terror" has developed recently as more young men come to share nationalist ideas they have managed to cultivate without joining any groups and then stage attacks when sufficiently motivated, the FSB official said. He cited the case of Alexander Koptsev, who stabbed and wounded nine men at the Chabad Synagogue in downtown Moscow in January 2006. Neither the Cherkizovsky market trio nor Koptsev belonged to any nationalist groups, but read nationalist literature and communicated with other xenophobes via the internet.

Independent experts on violent xenophobia concurred that lone nationalists and isolated small groups were becoming an increasing threat. "We see the emergence of so-called net-surfing nationalists who do not join any groups, but get pumped up from the internet and then strike in the real world," said Semyon Charny, an expert with the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.

Both Charny and Valery Pribylovsky of the think tank Panorama agreed that such loners were more difficult to intercept. Both noted that nationalist groups had used explosives in their attacks in the past, but the casualties at the Cherkizovsky market were unprecedented for hate crimes.

Indeed, while attacks by gangs of skinheads and other militant nationalist groups have been regular occurrences for years, casualties from such attacks have rarely exceeded several deaths or injuries. The 21 August bombing signals a qualitative leap in nationalists' preparedness to kill rather than simply intimidate.

"Once confined to night attacks in dark doorways, these groups now more and more often strike in broad daylight," noted Charny, whose think tank keeps tabs on violent xenophobia in Russia.

According to nationalists themselves, the deadly blast at Cherkizovsky was the beginning of a new stage in their activities. "The blast in Cherkizovo is the beginning of street terror," according to Dmitry Dyomushkin, leader of the Slav Union. The group often goes by its Russian acronym, SS.

Dyomushkin told Kommersant soon after the blast that authorities' efforts to stop nationalist organizations and groups from participating in public politics was fueling the violence. "By their actions, the authorities are causing a real hike in street terror," Dyomushkin was quoted in the 22 August issue of Kommersant as saying.

In reality, however, the ongoing escalation in attacks is partially rooted in law enforcement's failure to go beyond prosecuting the "foot soldiers" in militant nationalist groups and strike out at the ideologues and sponsors of violent xenophobia.

While attackers themselves are routinely caught and brought to justice, those who inspire them by publishing articles in radical media and delivering public lectures go unprosecuted. Of course, it is much more difficult for authorities to collect evidence against ideologues of violent xenophobia for prosecution than it is to prosecute those who actually commit violent hate crimes.

Moreover, until recently, police and prosecutors have been reluctant to classify hate crimes as such, insisting that even murders by skinheads and other nationalist-minded youth represented nothing more than hooliganism, while the inflicting of minor injuries would sometimes go unregistered by cops, "some of whom are former skinheads themselves," Pribylovsky observed.

And even when charged with hate crimes and tried in court, some suspects have been given small sentences or acquitted altogether by juries of ethnic Russians, as in the recent case of the suspected killers of a Tajik girl and a Vietnamese student in St Petersburg.

The fact remains that violent xenophobia in Russia is fast becoming a greater threat and the authorities would do best to stop paying lip service to the need to curb the violence and start addressing it at its roots. Immediate measures should include the allocation of funding and resources for tolerance programs targeting growing nationalist sentiment and a purge of some sort of nationalist forces from within the ranks of law enforcement bodies.

The trend could be halted if authorities worked toward dismantling violent groups and prosecuting their leaders and sponsors, rather than effectively condoning such violence by targeting low-level players and allowing racist juries to acquit them.


Simon Saradzhyan is a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center. He is the author of several papers on security and terrorism.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).
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