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Scores killed in Ingushetia police station bombing

Video by Luke BROWN , Claire BONNICHON

Text by Lorena GALLIOT

Latest update : 2009-08-17

A car bomb hit the main police station of the Ingush city of Nazran, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev sacked Ingushetia's interior minister following the attack.

A utility vehicle packed with explosives rammed though the gates of the police headquarters of Nazran, a town in the troubled Russian republic of Ingushetia in the north Caucasus, on Monday. The apparent suicide attack killed 20 people and wounded at least 60 others.

"The fact that it is a suicide bombing suggests an attack by the region's Islamic insurgency, indicating that although it has been weakened, it is still active," the Economist's Moscow correspondent, Shaun Walker, told FRANCE 24.

"Ingushetia faces regular violent attacks, but they are usually hit-and-run, targeted-killing types. This type of violence is recent and quite unusual," Walker added.

The attack came as police officers gathered in the building for roll call at the start of their morning shift, which explains the high number of casualties caused by the explosion.

"Many of the victims are in serious condition. All of those injured are currently being treated," a local hospital worker told the Russian news agency Interfax, contradicting reports that Nazran's main hospital did not have enough beds to accommodate the wounded.

A violent spike in an ongoing, low-intensity conflict

Monday's attack comes amid a recent spike in violent killings in the republic of Ingushetia, a region which has borne the brunt of negative side-effects from the long-lasting civil war in neighbouring Chechnya.

Last week, Ingushetia's construction minister, Ruslan Amerkhanov, was shot dead in his own office by a hit squad shortly after a spate of attacks which targeted three employees of the Russian emergency ministry.

Ingushetia’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, was himself seriously injured when a roadside bomb targeted his motorcade last June. He is slowly recovering after intensive surgery on his skull and several vital organs, but it is unclear whether he will be able to resume leadership of the republic.

Journalists and human rights activists are also frequent targets of deadly attacks. A leading human rights activist, Natalya Estermirova, was found dead in Grozny on July 16 after being kidnapped and bundled into the trunk of a car as she was on her way to an interview with France 24.

Zarema Sadulayeva, director of a charitable organisation, and her husband were the latest victims of a spate of killings of people who dared denounce the corruption, impunity and brutality of local authorities.

"The Kremlin has installed strong leaders and brutally repressed separatist insurgencies," Walker told FRANCE 24. "In reality, however, small attacks, which are not always reported in the Western media, happen on a weekly basis. Occasionally, like now, there will be a spurt of high-profile, violent killings which make the real situation become visible."

Who is behind the violence?

"It would be misleading to suggest that there is one single group responsible for the latest series of violent acts," said Robert Parsons, FRANCE 24's international affairs editor. "There is no central leadership: each killing replies to different case scenarios.

"Today's suicide bombing in Nazran was probably the work of Ingushetia's anti-Russian Islamist insurgency, targeting symbols of the Kremlin's authority."

"In the case of Natalia Estermirova's assassination, it's almost certain the Chechen government was, if not directly behind it, at least tacitly complicit."

The causes of the violence are multiple and highly complex, stemming both from a history of separatist ambitions in the region and deeply intertwined problems of corruption, poverty and unemployment.

"The fight for independence in Chechnya, which takes its roots in the 19th century, has spilled over to Ingushetia with the thousands of Chechen refugees that crossed the border during the 1994 and 1999 wars," said Robert Parsons. "That — in addition to high unemployment, dire poverty and widespread hatred the predominantly Muslim population feels towards corrupt and brutal authorities — make it very easy for insurgent groups to recruit new fighters. Kids will join rebel groups just to get off the streets or take revenge for abuse a family member was subjected to."

"Russian authorities are in a blind alley," said Parsons. "Everything the Kremlin has tried over the years to 'stabilize' the Caucasus region has failed."

The main problem, according to Parsons, is that "Moscow has put its cards on repression of separatist groups, but the repression itself is fuelling the anger of the population and strengthening radical groups."

It seems unlikely, Parsons added, that the spur of recent attacks will prompt the Kremlin to revise its tactics.

Date created : 2009-08-17