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Russian president criticizes airport officials after bombing

President Dmitry Medvedev orders Russian security services to step up efforts against extremists and says the Moscow airport must learn from the U.S. and Israel how to better handle security.

January 26, 2011|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
  • People bearing flowers and candles to commemorate the victims of a suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport make their way at the Moskovsky railway station in St. Petersburg.
People bearing flowers and candles to commemorate the victims of a suicide… (Dmitry Lovetsky, Associated…)

Reporting from Moscow — Stung by another terrorist attack in Russia's capital, President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday ordered security services to step up efforts to dismantle extremist networks and sharply criticized the management of Moscow's biggest airport.

A day after a suicide bombing killed 35 people waiting for international passengers arriving at Domodedovo Airport, there still was no claim of responsibility. But suspicion fell on Islamic militant groups from the Caucasus region who have been blamed for previous attacks, and Russian officials said they were searching for three Chechen men.

In televised comments to the leadership of the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the KGB, Medvedev singled out officials at the airport, which has been remodeled and expanded in the last decade.

"It is obvious that there are system errors in ensuring people's safety, and in managing this transportation facility," he said.

"The existing information demonstrates that there was simply anarchy," Medvedev said. People "would come in from anywhere, and the movement control at best was partial and didn't apply to those who were meeting passengers," he said.

One survivor said that the airport had metal detectors at its entrances, but he did not see anyone being screened.

In 2004, two suicide bombers were able to buy tickets illegally from Domodedovo staff members and detonated bombs aboard a pair of planes, killing 90 people.

The last major attack in Moscow was in March, when two bombers attacked the metro system, killing about 40 people. Officials said they traced those bombers to the Caucasus region of Dagestan.

With Russia preparing to host major international events, including the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Medvedev said Russian officials must learn from airport security in countries such as Israel and the United States: "The examination of both passengers and luggage is most thorough. They will take out your entire soul."

Airport officials declined to comment on the criticism. Government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no immediate personnel changes were planned.

Medvedev told FSB officials to "step up work in all directions, beginning with special operations to neutralize bandits, to undermine their financial and social base, to determine who their accomplices are."

Government critics charge that under Medvedev and his political mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia has ignored rampant discrimination against people from the Caucasus region and relied too much on force against Islamic extremist groups and ethnic minorities that are seeking more autonomy.

"They failed to offer the country a workable integration model for numerous members of other ethnic groups flowing into central Russia," said Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist who was a longtime supporter of Putin. "That's how people from the Caucasus are turned into scapegoats for the masses angered by unresolved social problems and the growing class inequality."

Dugin said Russian leaders appeared unprepared for the scale of discontent displayed last month at a rally near the Kremlin in which young protesters demanded that people from the Caucasus region and Central Asia leave the Russian heartland.

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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