A Chechen rebel leader last night claimed responsibility for the Moscow suicide bombings and promised more bloodshed to come, as Russian officials pointed the finger at Georgia for abetting the militants.
In a four-and-a-half-minute video posted on a separatist website, Doku Umarov said that Monday's twin attacks on the capital's underground system, which killed 39 people, were revenge for a February assault by Russian troops on civilians in Ingushetia.
“Both of these operations were carried out on my command and will not be the last,” Umarov said.
Earlier in the day, two more suicide bombers struck in the Russian region of Dagestan, killing 12 people and injuring 29.
A suicide bomber in a car detonated his explosives as police chased the vehicle early in the morning in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar, near the Chechen border.
As investigators and locals gathered, another bomber approached wearing a police uniform and detonated his bomb, killing the police chief among others.
“Yet another terrorist act has been committed. I do not rule out that it is one and the same gang acting,” said Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister.
Russian security sources have claimed a cell of more than 20 suicide bombers could be primed to attack across the country.
Calling the attacks “a crime against Russia”, Mr Putin ordered his interior minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, to bolster the police presence in the North Caucasus.
The extraordinary claims of Georgian complicity in the Russian attacks came from the head of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev. In an interview in the Kommersant newspaper yesterday, he said that terrorists from the North Caucasus were the most likely culprits, but that they may have received help from abroad.
“For example, there is Georgia and its leader [President Mikheil] Saakashvili, whose behaviour is unpredictable,” said Mr Patrushev, who was formerly the head of the FSB security service.
“He has already started a war once, and we can't exclude that he will do so again. We had information that certain employees of the Georgian secret services kept up contact with terrorist organisations in the Russian North Caucasus,” he added.
Georgia and Russia fought a war over South Ossetia in 2008, and the allegations recall complaints from Russia nearly a decade ago that Chechen fighters used remote mountain areas of Georgia as a base.
Most Georgian analysts called the claims outrageous, with some even suggesting that they might form part of a pretext for new military action against Georgia.
Opposition politician Nika Laliashvili called for a convening of the National Security Council, saying that Patrushev's statement “could be the basis for a new war against Georgia.”
The Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, David Jalagania, said the accusations were a way of deflecting attention from Russia's internal problems.
“By making such statements ... representatives of the Kremlin try to avoid responsibility for their professional impotence and incompetence,” he said
In his video, Umarov —the self-styled “Emir of the Caucasus Emirate” — made no mention of Georgia, and said he had personally ordered the attacks.