#10 - JRL 7269
New York Times
July 30, 2003
Russia Finds No Corner Is Safe From Chechnya's War
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MOSCOW, July 29 -- The village of Tolstopaltsevo lies in the wooded outskirts of the capital, a humble, in places dilapidated cluster of wooden houses known as dachas, where Russians go to escape Moscow's urban jostle.
These days, however, the village is no sanctuary from the fear that has descended, like the summer heat, on Moscow and much of Russia.
"Everyone thinks the trouble is far away, and it walks right next to you," said Olga Beskova, a Muscovite who spends summer weekends at her house in Tolstopaltsevo, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens and shaded by birch and linden trees.
On Thursday, dozens of security officers descended on Tolstopaltsevo, cordoned it off for more than 16 hours and unearthed a cache of explosives fashioned into what officials said were five "suicide belts." They had been buried inside plastic jugs beside a garage across the narrow gravel lane from Ms. Beskova's dacha.
Officials declared the operation a blow in Russia's fight against Chechen terrorists, with Interior Minister Boris V. Gryzlov saying on Friday that it had prevented "at least five possible terrorist acts."
The operation has done little, though, to ease the lingering anxiety among Russians that the country's long, festering war in Chechnya is spreading in new and disturbing ways beyond the borders of the battered republic.
Since mid-May, a series of suicide attacks has killed at least 110 people. The first four attacks were in or near Chechnya, nearly 500 miles south of here, but two this month struck in the heart of the capital.
On July 5, two women who were said to be Chechens detonated separate bombs at a rock 'n' roll festival at the Tushino airfield, killing at least 15 people. On July 10, an evidently botched attack at a cafe on one of the city's main shopping streets, Tverskaya, killed an officer trying to defuse a bomb found in a black bag.
Yet another attack occurred in Chechnya on Sunday when a woman blew herself up after she was stopped by guards outside a paramilitary base in Tsatsan-Yurt, a village southeast of the republic's capital, Grozny. A passer-by wounded in the blast died today, according to news reports.
In Moscow, there are few outward signs of panic, but there have been reverberations, as well as an undercurrent of apprehension and suspicion.
The government has increased patrols and document checks, while intensifying surveillance in places where Muscovites congregate. President Vladimir V. Putin postponed a trip to Uzbekistan and Malaysia after the Tushino bombings. A rock festival planned for August has been canceled.
The news media have fueled the unease with lurid stories about a cadre of female suicide bombers called "black widows," said to be planning a series of attacks to avenge the deaths of husbands or other relatives killed by federal forces in Chechnya.
Such stories are based on statements by Russian officials and a threat, reportedly made by Shamil Basayev, a rebel commander, to unleash terror across Russia in a plot involving as many as 36 of the suicide bombers.
A middle-aged woman nicknamed Black Fatima is said to have trained and organized the bombers here.
Even before the Moscow bombings, Nikolai P. Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Services, warned publicly that suicide attacks had become an extreme danger. After the bombings, he acknowledged, according to the news agency Itar-Tass, "It is difficult to fight them so far."
Moscow has experienced waves of terror before. The war in Chechnya began in 1999 after the bombings of two apartment buildings. Chechen insurgents were blamed for those attacks, along with a similar bombing in the southern city of Volgodonsk.
Just last October, Chechen guerrillas seized a theater here and held more than 700 people hostage for 57 hours before commandos stormed the building. At least 41 guerrillas and at least 129 of the hostages died, most from the effects of a nerve gas used in the rescue.
Mr. Gryzlov said the attacks were part of "well-organized aggression by the strike force of international terrorism." According to news reports, a 22-year-old Chechen woman, Zarema Muzhikhoyeva, who had been arrested by the police, led investigators to the cache in Tolstopaltsevo.
While Mr. Patrushev's officers defused the explosives, they have yet to arrest the men who rented the dacha. Nor have they found Black Fatima or others behind the recent bombings.
On July 17, a bomb at a police station in Khasavyurt, in the southern republic of Dagestan killed three people, including a pregnant woman. On the same day, officials said they found a bomb near a market in Ulyanovsk, a city on the Volga River.
In Tolstopaltsevo, which is administratively part of Moscow though it lies 12 miles beyond the city's outer ring road, the discovery of the cache of explosives exposed the anxieties felt by many Russians, as well as their contradictory feelings about the war in Chechnya, now nearly four years old.
Igor A. Tkachenko, who lives down the road from where the bombs were found, said the government was too lenient with Chechen independence fighters.
"Look, the Americans do whatever they want with their enemies," he said. "In Russia, they're playing games."
Ms. Beskova, by contrast, was simply horrified. "Any war is horrible — Chechnya or anywhere," she said, holding her infant son, Andrei. "On the level of ordinary people, there's no reason for the war. We are peaceful people. We want to live normally."