Sunday, 4 April 2010

Terrorism returns to Moscow

A new entry has been a long time coming. This is mostly due to the fact that I was on holiday for the first two weeks in March, and then straight back on shift for another week. The events on the Metro on Monday, March 29th, have also delayed writing as well. On the upside, prior to my holiday in Paris, I acquired a digital camera and have uploaded several hundred photos of the French and Russian capitals, which you can find at my flickr account.

I'm not entirely sure it's my place to discuss the Moscow Metro attacks. Looking up the entry about it on Wikipedia will give you more information than I can. Yet what I can do, perhaps, is give you a basic version of the events for those who don't have the patience, or the background knowledge. I should warn you that I will hyperlink a bunch of phrases, something I normally hate doing (seeing as nearly every other damned blog post on the Internet consists entirely of links to other sites). Try to think of them as further reading. I'll attempt to keep things simple.

On Monday, March 29th, the first explosion struck the red line Metro station Lubyanka just before 08:00, which was smack bang during rush hour ("час-пик" chass-peek or "peak hour" literally). Lubyanka is of importance, not so much in terms of the transport network as it only meets the purple line, but what's above it. Here's a pic of the Moscow Metro's layout in English. Click to expand.

On Lubyanka Square is the headquarters of the former KGB (Комитет Государственной Безопасность - Komitet Gos-u-darst-vennoi Bez-o-pass-nost lit. Committee for State Security), now the FSB (Федеральная Служба Безопасности - Federalnaya Sloozh-bah Bez-o-pass-nost-ee lit. Federal Service of Security). In other words, it's the equivalent of London's MI5. As you can see from the map, it's just a little bit north from the Kremlin itself, making it a prime target for anyone wanting to attack the Russian government.

Approximately 40 minutes later, the second bomb went off at Park Kultury Metro station, located further down the line from Lubyanka and joins with the ring line station, which is extremely busy at the best of times. Both bombs occurred while the trains were on the platforms. Had they gone off while the train was in motion doesn't bear thinking about. The trains themselves can hit a top speed of about 70 km/h between stations, certainly at that time of day. The bombs themselves weren't that powerful, but they did contain shrapnel and metal rods, and were detonated via the use of cellphones.

As it turns out, Park Kultury was allegedly not the intended target, even though it is a busy thoroughfare at that time. Instead, Oktyabrskaya (one station anti-clockwise from Park Kultury on the circular line) was meant to be hit next. As for what's at Oktyabyrskaya... well, nothing exceptional comes to mind, other than the fact that it's a ring line station like Park Kultury.

The chief reason why the bomber was not successful in reaching Oktyabyrskaya is that perhaps she had been delayed. I know from an acquaintance - who was on the train ahead of the one that was carrying the second bomber at Park Kultury and heard the explosion behind her - that the red line was being closed off and people were being taken off the trains "for technical reasons" and "told to seek other routes", so the second suicide bomber there would have had to get off at the station regardless of whether or not she was heading to Oktyabyrskaya. It was also at such a time that news about Lubyanka was just beginning to spread. Consequently, access to the ring line at Park Kultury was also shut down for approximately an hour.

In addition, the bombers themselves were two young women - one in her teens - reported to be the widows of two Chechen militants (it's not uncommon for these men often have multiple wives). They have been named, and were allegedly accompanied by two men to the station they both got on at, which is Yugo-Zapadnaya - the first station on the red line from the south west. The apartment they were residing in and where the bombs were assembled has also been discovered. The manhunt for the two accomplices is underway.

On top of killing 40 and injuring 100 people and causing transport havoc - which greedy taxi drivers capitalized on at Metro station Komsomolskaya, also on the red line, by hiking up their fares to ludicrous sums (something in the region of 3000 roubles, or $100, to get to the centre of the city) - the mobile phone networks ground to a halt in the middle of the day as a result of the sheer number of phonecalls made and text messages sent. The authorities also asked the networks to do so in an attempt to block any further detonations. The phone network Megafon reimbursed its customers for any text messages sent from the time of 08:00 to 16:00, while mine (Beeline) sent me information messages about alternative bus routes or something along those lines (I couldn't tell, as the rest of the text was missing).

As for responsibility, it lies with so-called Chechen warlord/Islamist rebel leader/freedom fighter Doku Umarov, who is more or less deemed Russia's equivalent of Osama Bin Laden. Previous acts attributed to this man (or his group, of which he is its self-styled Emir) include the recent derailment of the Nevsky Express in November 2009, which claimed 27 people, as well as numerous homocides and kidnappings - all in the name of seeking the creation of the so-called "Caucasus Emirate".

Thankfully, all of my friends and acquaintances were unharmed, though there were a number of near-misses and those who slept in or were late for work.

As a result of Monday's events, I ended being contacted by BBC Radio Ulster to talk about it. Skip ahead to approximately 1:14:30. I was a bit nervous talking on national radio, so please excuse the inaccuracies that I have hopefully remedied with this post.

Finally, Russia Today went into overdrive on Monday with its coverage, some of which you can watch here. Their footage was at one point being streamed by both the BBC and CNN on the day.


In other news, the snow is gone and it's warming up. Despite me looking forward to a winter wonderland of lots of snow remiscent of 2005/2006, which I got, it was too long and too dark. So much so that it was starting to take its toll emotionally. What'll likely happen now is a boiling hot summer, just like in 2006, which should be a joy when I'm at work.

I've also joined a gym literally around the corner from my apartment. Nothing exceptional, but it's open late, meaning I can go for a run after work, which is a relief after being on a 12-hour shift.

Last but not least, I acquired a faux leather office chair from Ikea for my flat. Its design is nothing exceptional, but it took a ludicrously long time to assemble because of its leatherette-ness. It was a balancing act trying to position a cumbersome soft thing next to another combersome soft thing, then trying to screw the two together. Three limb minimum. In hindsight I'd have rather changed the tires on a Hummer. Here's the completed article.

Someone should invent some sort of clamp specifically for Ikea furniture.

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