KARABULAK, Russia (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed two policemen in Russia’s Ingushetia region on Monday, the latest in a series of attacks that underscores the threat from an Islamist insurgency on the nation’s southern flank.
Suicide bombers have killed more than 50 people and injured 100 over the past week in the Moscow metro and the mainly Muslim regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia, which flank Chechnya in Russia’s restive North Caucasus.
Monday’s bombing came a week after two suicide blasts in the Moscow metro raised concerns of a new wave of attacks by militants from the North Caucasus against major Russian cities.
In the latest attack, a man aged about 30 attempted to enter the police headquarters in the town of Karabulak, about 20 km (12 miles) from the Ingush regional capital of Magas, local and federal police told Reuters.
“A suicide bomber tried to get into the police headquarters during roll call, but after being stopped the bomber detonated the explosives,” said Oleg Yelnikov, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Moscow.
Two police were killed and four injured, the Investigative Committee of the federal Prosecutor General’s Office said.
Just under an hour later, explosives in a car parked across the street from the police headquarters were detonated by remote control, causing a powerful blast that injured Karabulak’s top prosecutor, seven police and a civilian, it said. The injuries were not life-threatening.
A Reuters cameraman at the scene said several cars were burning outside the police station and remains of the suspected suicide bomber were lying among rubble on the street.
Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said the organisers of last week’s attacks were probably to blame. “The character of the attack, including the double blast, allows us to make the preliminary conclusion that the same people are responsible,” Yevkurov’s spokesman quoted him as saying.
Russia is on edge after the Moscow attacks killed at least 40 last Monday and twin suicide bombings in Dagestan killed another 12 people on Wednesday. Russia’s leaders say they are aimed at sowing disorder across the country and have vowed to destroy Islamist militants from the North Caucasus.
Islamist insurgents seeking a Sharia-based pan-Caucasus state have claimed responsibility for the Moscow bombings, saying they were revenge for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s policies in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.
Russian authorities said one of the Moscow bombers was the teenage Dagestani widow of a slain militant, and a Dagestani man told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta that he recognized his daughter in photos of the remains of the other suspected bomber.
Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen who is Russia’s most wanted guerrilla and calls himself the “Emir of the Caucasus Emirate,” has vowed more attacks on Russian cities outside the Caucasus.
The responsibility claim went unreported by most mainstream Russian media outlets. But a lawmaker from Putin’s dominant party said on Monday he had proposed legislation that would bar media from reporting statements by suspected terrorists.
The attacks in the past week follow a year of rising violence in the North Caucasus and present a serious challenge to Russia’s rulers, who had claimed to have tamed the mountainous region just north of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Ingushetia and Dagestan are plagued by near-daily attacks targeting law enforcement authorities a decade after the second of two devastating wars against Chechen separatists.
Putin, who cemented his power in 1999 by launching the second war in Chechnya, said last week the culprits behind the metro bombings must be scraped “from the bottom of the sewers.”
But analysts say the attacks underline the failure of the Kremlin’s policies in the area, which is made up of a patchwork of ethnic groups.
Locals say the heavy-handed measures of law enforcement agencies, rampant corruption, clan rivalries and desperate poverty are pushing recruits toward the Islamist rebels, who Russia says get support from abroad.
Additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Conor Sweeney and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by David Stamp