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updated: 4/19/2013 9:13 AM

Russia's Caucasus: breeding ground for terror

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  • In this early Thursday, Sept. 9, 1999 file photo smoke rises from an apartment building destroyed by a bomb blast blamed on Chechen militants, as Russian Emergency Situations Ministry officers and firefighters try to save people in Moscow.

      In this early Thursday, Sept. 9, 1999 file photo smoke rises from an apartment building destroyed by a bomb blast blamed on Chechen militants, as Russian Emergency Situations Ministry officers and firefighters try to save people in Moscow.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- Militants from Chechnya and other restive regions in Russia's volatile North Caucasus have targeted Moscow and other areas with bombings and hostage-takings, but if it turns out that the suspects in the Boston bombings are linked to those insurgencies it would mark the first time the Russian conflict had spawned a terror attack in the West.

Two suspects in the Boston bombings were identified to The Associated Press as coming from the Russian region near Chechnya, but there was no immediate information of their links, if any, to any insurgent group. A law enforcement intelligence bulletin obtained by the AP identified the surviving bomb suspect as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19.

The conflict in Chechnya began in 1994 as a separatist war, but quickly morphed into an Islamic insurgency that vowed to carve out an independent Islamic state in the Caucasus.

Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after the first Chechen war, leaving it de-facto independent and largely lawless, but then rolled back three years later following apartment building explosions in Moscow and other cities blamed on the rebels.

Chechnya has stabilized under the steely grip of Kremlin-backed local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel whose forces were accused of massive rights abuses. But the Islamic insurgency has spread to neighboring provinces, with Dagestan, sandwiched between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, becoming the epicenter of violence with militants launching daily attacks against police and other authorities.

Militants from Chechnya and neighboring provinces have launched a long series of terror attacks in Russia, including a 2002 hostage-taking raid in Moscow's theater, in which 129 hostages died, a 2004 hostage-taking in a school in the southern city of Beslan that killed more than 330 people, and numerous bombings in Moscow and other cities.

In recent years, however, militants in Chechnya, Dagestan and other neighboring provinces have largely refrained from attacks outside the Caucasus.

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