Russia’s death spiral

HALF past four in the afternoon is peak time for international arrivals at Domodedovo, one of Moscow’s more efficient airports and the one favoured by many foreign airlines.

As passengers leave the baggage-reclaim area, they are usually greeted by taxi touts. Yesterday they were met by a suicide bomb, which killed 35 people and injured 180. The blast was clearly designed to cause maximum damage, and to hit not just Russians but foreigners too. There were eight non-Russians among the dead.

The horrific attack has been condemned around the world. This is the first time that an international airport building in a large country has been attacked by terrorists. There has been no claim of responsibility yet, but Russian security services are confident the bomb was the work of Islamist radicals from the north Caucasus.

Details are still hazy, but it appears that a male bomber entered the building from the car park, and did not need to pass through metal detectors on his way to the arrivals area. A source familiar with the investigation says CCTV picked up the bomber entering the building just over an hour before the explosion.

Intriguingly, the footage apparently suggests that he did not have the appearance of a north Caucasusian.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, was quick to blame the airport management for allowing breaches of security.

“People were allowed to walk in from anywhere. The entrance restrictions were partial at best,” he said. An airport spokesperson said that it was the police, not airport officials, who were responsible for security in the zone where the bomb went off.

Yet no busy airport can check everyone who walks into the building. Areas designed for the general public rather than passengers have lower levels of security in most countries. Medvedev’s subsequent order to increase security at Domodedovo by forcing all visitors to walk through metal detectors has led to overcrowding, which itself is a huge security risk.

This is why the key role in thwarting terrorist attacks lies with the security services and the police. Yet Russia’s police often seem more preoccupied with extracting bribes from migrant workers than with airport security.

In 2004 two suicide bombers were able to board two separate planes at Domodedovo and kill 88 people after being briefly detained and then released by the airport police.

No security service can protect against every incident. But the frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia — the last took place in March, when 40 people died in a metro bombing—raises questions about the efficiency of the bodies charged with keeping Russians safe.

Over the past decade Russia’s security services have acquired enormous power and influence, but this has only made them less accountable. Medvedev has ordered an overhaul of security procedures at Russia’s airports, but has said nothing about the security agencies. –– Economist.

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