Russia Pledges to Tackle Terrorist Threat in Volatile South

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Moscow ( - The North Caucasus region in southern Russia has been increasingly plagued by terrorist violence, prompting a new pledge from the Kremlin to stamp out a wave of a car bombings, roadside explosions and killings.

The surge of violence comes despite hopes that the death earlier this year of a Chechen terrorist leader could lead to greater stability in the volatile region.

President Vladimir Putin told military and law enforcement officers Wednesday to take preemptive actions in fighting terrorism, which remained a major threat.

"Your actions should be preemptive," he said, adding that recent attacks in London, Egypt and the North Caucasus showed "terrorism remains one of the main threats to the world."

Putin said Russia had killed more than 130 terrorists over the past six months.

"However, terrorists continue to undermine a return to normal life in Chechnya and try to subvert in the North Caucasus," he said, in reference to the Dagestan region bordering Chechnya.

Earlier this month, Putin traveled to Dagestan where he gave orders for security to be boosted.

Moscow has intensified operations to combat terrorists since last September's Beslan school siege, in which more than 330 people were killed in North Ossetia, another region that borders Chechnya.

The North Caucasus region has been plagued by instability and clashes, with fighting spilling over from Chechnya into nearby regions including Dagestan, an area that is home to some two million people, divided into dozens of ethnic groups.

Dagestan has witnessed more than 80 deadly attacks by Islamic extremists this year. Most recently, three soldiers were killed by rebels in two separate attacks on Wednesday.

Two days earlier, six police officers were injured when their car was blown up, and a bombing at a bath-house in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala last month cost the lives of 10 Russian soldiers.

Civilians also have been targeted. Earlier this month, a powerful explosion in a commuter train killed a young woman and wounding several people. A similar bombing on Monday derailed a train, injuring two people.

The spate of attacks are blamed on Shariah Jamaat, a Wahhabi organization estimated at 2,000 strong, which aims to create an Islamic state in Dagestan, and which has claimed responsibility for attacks and assassinations.

Last March, the al-Qaeda-linked group said it was launching an all-out war against Dagestan security forces whom it accused of "murdering Muslims."

Violence continues in Chechnya, too, where a recent roadside explosion killed 14 security force troops.

Since Russian forces killed Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov earlier this year, the violent campaign has reportedly been led Shamil Basayev, the alleged mastermind of the Beslan siege and a deadly Moscow theater attack two years ago.

Basayev and his supporters invaded Dagestan in 1999, but were driven back by local militias and Russian troops. Some Russian media outlets speculate that Basayev moved from Chechnya to Dagestan earlier this year, in order to direct terrorists based there.

See earlier story:
Russia Claims Breakthrough in Killing of Chechen Separatist Leader (Mar. 08, 2005)

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