Russian police are hunting for clues from the North Caucasus over the origins and identities of two female suicide bombers who killed 39 by blowing themselves up on the Moscow metro.
All that remained of the two women were mutilated body parts after they detonated explosives strapped to their bodies within 40 minutes of each other on trains at two Moscow metro stations early on Monday.
The Russian authorities released grainy but grisly photographs to local media showing the severed heads of the two women’s corpses, which are now the prime evidence in the police investigation.
But beyond their gender, no official information over the backgrounds of the women has emerged. The Life Ru news website quoted a morgue source as saying one of the bombers was aged between 20-25.
The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov has indicated the attacks were planned by militant groups linked to the North Caucasus, a largely Muslim part of Russia long troubled by Islamist unrest.
Links to Caucasus region
He has also said the two women had “links to places of residence in the North Caucasus” without giving further details.
Security sources quoted in the Russian media said the investigation has already confirmed that both women boarded a metro train together early on Monday at the Yugo-Zapadnaya station, the western terminus of the metro’s line one.
They were accompanied into the station by two women and a man who were photographed by a security camera, the Interfax news agency reported.
Along with the severed heads, a picture of the man walking to the metro station – wearing a hat and apparently with a moustache – was also released.
Interfax quoted a security source as saying the two women had arrived in Moscow in the early hours of Monday on board a private intercity bus from the Northern Caucasus, accompanied by a man and carrying three bags.
‘Revenge’ motive for attack
There was no official confirmation of the report.
The female bombers sent a chill of horror across Russia, recalling the dark days less than a decade ago when women dubbed the ‘Black Widows’ carried out a string of deadly suicide attacks.
The Black Widows name came about as many of the women were found to have been relatives of men killed by Russian forces in operations in the North Caucasus and became suicide bombers to exact revenge on the authorities.
The leader of the Ingushetia region in the North Caucasus, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, has ordered that the relatives of well-known militants be investigated for possible involvement in the bombings.
“In particular, we are going to check where the women and young people are living,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
Islamist guerillas killed
Kommersant and Interfax quoted sources as saying investigators were looking at the possibility that a military operation this month in the North Caucasus in which a top militant was killed could have provided a revenge motive.
The March 2-3 raid in the village of Ekazhevo in Ingushetia killed Islamist guerilla leader Alexander Tikhomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky, as well as seven other militants.
Kommersant quoted an investigation source as saying that Tikhomirov – a convert to Islam originally from Siberia – had recruited and trained 30 potential suicide bombers from Ingushetia and neighbouring Chechnya.
“Now we are checking if relatives of all the victims of the special operation in Ekazhevo have gone missing, especially women,” a source told the newspaper.
“These blasts could be revenge on the part of the terrorists,” Interfax quoted its source as saying.
The paper also said that nine out of the 30 suicide bombers recruited by Tikhomirov were already known to have blown themselves up and the remainder were being searched for by the police.