* Security stepped up following bombing
* Putin, Medvedev have promised to crush militants
* Moscow has seen flare-up of nationalist violence
By Alexei Anishchuk
MOSCOW, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A suspected suicide bomber has
struck at Russia's busiest airport, killing at least 35 people
and challenging Kremlin efforts to crush armed insurgency and
tackle growing nationalist tensions in the country's heartland.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's
attack at Moscow's Domodedovo airport; but the action bore many
of the hallmarks of militants fighting for an Islamist state in
the North Caucasus region, on Russia's southern frontiers.
Dense smoke filled Domodedovo's international arrivals hall
and a fire burned along one wall.
"Taxi drivers lined up in the arrivals hall were blown up.
Pieces of their bodies covered us," Artyom Zhilenkov, 30, told
Reuters as he pointed to pieces of human flesh on his coat.
North Caucasus rebels have threatened attacks against cities
and economic targets in the run-up to parliamentary elections
this year and 2012 presidential polls. But the choice of
Domodedovo, resulting in the deaths of several foreigners,
suggested the attackers, whoever they were, sought to raise
uncertainty beyond Russia's borders.
Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi,
which some Islamist rebels consider "Russian occupied"
territory, and the 2018 soccer World Cup.
President Dmitry Medvedev said he would track down and
punish those behind the bombing, which also injured over 150
people arriving in Moscow on a busy late afternoon. He ordered
increased security at transport hubs and public meeting places.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous act of
terrorism" and offered Moscow help. NATO Secretary General
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was shocked, state TV said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the more powerful in Russia's
'tandem' political leadership, built his early reputation as a
strong leader by launching a war in late 1999 to crush a rebel
government in the Northern Caucasus's Chechnya region. That
campaign achieved its immediate aim, but since then, insurgency
has spread to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan.
It has also assumed a more ruthless edge, spawning hardline
factions difficult to monitor. Putin and Medvedev have said they
would crush the rebel movements, but their control in the region
has sometimes looked tenuous.
"These would likely (but not necessarily) be Islamists from
the Northern Caucasus. If so, yet another example of the
proposition that success in Chechnya has generated a more
diffuse and dangerous threat," said Neil MacFarlane, Professor
of International Relations, St. Anne's College, Oxford.
"The consequences? More abuse of people of Caucasian origin
in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia...more intense military/police
response in the region will make the problem more severe rather
than less, because of the methods that are likely to be
employed, and the obligation to revenge."
The spread of violence from the North Caucasus, where it is
fed by a cocktail of corruption, poverty and clan rivalries as
well as religious radicalism, fans Russian nationalist militancy
in the heartland.
Tensions between ethnic Russians and the 20 million Muslims
who make up one seventh of Russia's population flared
dramatically last month in a string of clashes, which involved
thousands of Russian nationalists who attacked passersby of
non-Slavic appearance, many of them from the North Caucasus.
The incidents caused alarm in the Kremlin.
Analysts said such attacks, if sustained, could raise doubts
over foreign involvement in the Russian economy, though there
were no signs of any serious reaction in Russian markets to
The prosecutor's office said the attack, the largest since
twin suicide bombings on the Moscow metro rocked the Russian
heartland in March, "was most likely carried out by a suicide
bomber". State television attributed it to a "smertnik", or
Moscow suffered its worst attack in six years in March 2010
when two female suicide bombers from Dagestan set off explosives
in the metro, killing 40 people.
The worst incident involving North Caucasus rebels took
place in 2004 when militants seized control of a school in
Beslan. When Russian troops stormed the building in an attempt
to end a siege, 331 hostages, half of them children, were
(Writing and additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman,
additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Steve Gutterman and
Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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