Friday, August 27, 2004

Russia Explosions Part III
Stanford Law School's Moscow Correspondent DC Rybicki reports from Russia (see his earlier posts on this subject here and here):
Kommersant,, the Russian daily which most closely approximates western journalistic standards, leads today with an article morosely (and crassly)entitled "Passengers Collectible On Demand: terrorism suspects have surfaced in the air-catastrophe investigation."

But, dear reader, don't take my Putin media-embargo-theory email and rip it to shreds quite yet! A claim that the planes were brought down by terrorists represents such a massive insult to Putin and an indictment of his Chechnya policy, that without a smoking gun, there will be no admission of foul play by the government.

The official line by Minister of Transportation Igor Levitin remains a refusal to admit that there is any connection between the two crashes: "these were different air companies, flying to different cities and I think that this [a coordinated 9/11-style attack] is not the correct theory" said Levitin. He cited as more plausible theories both human and mechanical error. Authorities have added that it could be months before a definitive statement regarding the contents of the in-flight recorders from both airplanes can be made.

Keep these claims in mind when reading what follows and then evaluate their plausibility.

As I wrote two days ago, the first two problems for the authorities in the double-crash investigation were the premature and unilateral release by the air companies of their passenger lists and the report of the Tu-154's alleged distress call shortly before impact. The trail continues on from those lists: Kommersant reports that of the 93 dead, only 2 passengers, one from each flight, are yet to be 'claimed' by any grieving relatives.

Shocker: the passengers are two Chechen women named Ms. "S. Dzhjebirkhanova" and Ms. "Amanta Salm. Nagajeva" (the "Salm." is her patronymic and turns out to have been a misspelled abbreviation for "Sulejmanovna", i.e., her father's name is "Suleiman").

Recent history has demonstrated that the vast majority of suicide attacks in Russia have been carried out by the so-called Shakhidki, Chechen widows, mothers, sisters or other lunatics whose husbands, sons, brothers have been killed by federal troops in the carnage of the last 12 years. They've got a score to settle and they like killing civilians. The Avtozavodskaja subway explosion last February which killed 40; the Hotel Natsional explosion last winter; the Tverskaja bombings; last summer's attack at the "Krylja" Rock Festival killing 20; Nord-ost's terrorists with two kilos of TNT strapped to their bodies; all Shakhidki. They've earned the ignominious nickname "Black Widows" in popular speech.

And no one has called the victim hotlines inquiring as to their whereabouts, no one has claimed either of them. Sure, the feds questioned some hapless Chechen family by the name of Dzhjebirkhanov in Moscow yesterday, but the Chechens claim no relation to the suspect passenger and added "they [FSB] come around here after every attack anyways."

Apparently Dzhjebirkhanova filled out her ticket paperwork in Roman letters (which is in itself a weird thing to do for a girl born in back-country Chechnya), and didn't present any official documents when buying the ticket: Sibir' Airways has no record of her passport number or any other more specific information which could assist in determining her identity. Bravo, Russian airport security, really, nice job guys. That's right: don't bother checking the papers of the world-weary Chechen girl wearing the bulky winter coat in late August. Of course, both the East-Line Company, which runs Domodedovo Airport, and Sibir' Airways both claim that it is "impossible" for her to have either gotten tickets or cleared passport control without the required documentation. Whatever.

She was originally scheduled to fly on the 9.20 am flight, which, according to the air company, is the most popular Moscow-Sochi route and is always filled to its 300+ passenger capacity. For reasons yet unknown, Dzhjebirkhanova changed her flight, in the process paying a penalty fee of 500 RUR (ca. $17), not an insignificant sum (pensioners get something like 1700 RUR a month), and was reticketed to fly twelve hours later on the 9.25 pm flight, an unpopular and relatively empty route carrying on average ca. 40 passengers. She sat in seat 19F, near the end of the tourist-class cabin and 9 rows in front of the airplane's tail, which holds the toilets and engines. Russian experts claim this is the optimal location for maximizing damage by explosion.

The second suspected Shakhidka is Amanta Suleimanovna Nagajeva; authorities have determined that she was born in the village of Kirov in the Vedenskij District of Chechnya, but had subsequently moved to Groznij. She was never married, had not previously crossed paths with MVD or FSB, but is obviously now suspected of having ties to Chechen terror cells. No connection between Nagajeva and Dzhjebirkanova has yet been uncovered.

Needless to say, there are hundreds of reasons why neither of these girls' families have yet to contact the authorities: their families were killed in the wars, they don't have a phone, families hate or fear federal authorities and won't call, daughters ran away years ago and didn't maintain contact, daughters are Shakhidka suicide bombers, etc. In spite of these developments, I still maintain that the Russian authorities will not admit that this was a coordinated, 9/11-style attack. They will claim that "data do not support any unique theory" or that "no conclusive statements can be made" regarding the crashes or that "there is no physical evidence to suggest a bomb was carried on board." Everybody will still know that this thing is way beyond coincidence, and that knowledge is in no way contingent on confirmation by an official report, which will not be forthcoming.

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