MOSCOW – A Chechen rebel warlord was behind the suicide bombing of the country's busiest airport, Russia's top investigative agency said Tuesday, adding that it has detained two suspected participants in the attack.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said it had charged Doku Umarov and another militant with organizing the Jan. 24 bombing of Moscow's Domodedovo airport that killed 37 and injured more than 180.
Russian media reports, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Umarov may be among 17 militants killed in a security raid in the province of Ingushetia west of Chechnya late Monday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev praised the security service for the raid, saying it "dealt a heavy blow" to the insurgents. "It's good that you struck these scoundrels in their den," Medvedev said during a meeting Tuesday with a deputy head of Russia's Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency.
Russian news reports said Tuesday Umarov may have been killed in a raid that involved an air strike on a militant camp in the region's forested mountains, but officials had no confirmation. Three security officers also died in the raid.
Ingushetia's leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, said Tuesday that some militant leaders were among those killed, but added it was too early to name them pending an investigation. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed in the past that Umarov was killed, but he has survived numerous security sweeps.
Umarov claimed responsibility for the airport bombing in a video posted last month and warned that many more such incidents will follow if Russia does not allow the Caucasus to become an independent Islamic state governed by Sharia law.
Umarov has claimed an array of terrorist attacks in the past, including double suicide bombing of the Moscow subway system a year ago that killed 40 people. He is seen more as an ideological than a military figure, as many militant cells operate autonomously and shun centralized command.
Medvedev said Tuesday that the authorities had tracked down all the perpetrators of the March 29, 2010 Moscow subway bombings and killed many of them during a special operation — "a just retribution," he said.
On Tuesday, he pledged security raids against militants will continue, "so that every bandit realizes ... that he will be killed if he continues his criminal activities."
Markin said authorities also detained two brothers in Monday's security raid in the province of Ingushetia west of Chechnya on charges of helping stage the January airport bombing. He said the two brothers drove alleged suicide bomber, 20-year old Magomed Yevloyev of Ingushetia, to the airport.
Markin said in televised remarks that the security agents had seized explosives, including a suicide belt, from the two brothers, Islam and Ilez Yandiyev, indicating that they were preparing another terror attack.
Chechen rebels have fought two separatist wars against Russian forces since 1994. Major battles in the second war died down about a decade ago, but the Islamic insurgency has spread across neighboring North Caucasus provinces, stoked by poverty, corruption and abuses against civilians by security forces. Attacks on police and other authorities have become a near daily occurrence.