Many passengers were crying as they left the underground train and were escorted by police through the Park Kultury subway station in Moscow on Monday morning. They were the lucky ones -- they had been on their way to the city center.
On the other side of the platform, commuters traveling in the opposite direction had been killed in one of the two blasts that hit the Moscow metro on Monday morning. The subway cars were standing there, with their doors wide open and windows shattered. There had been no time to cover the faces of corpses or remove the bodies.
The passengers turned away, covering their eyes or looking at the floor. Traces of blood could still be seen on the ground, where the injured had been taken by rescue workers to the station's exit.
During rush hour on Monday morning, two bombs, apparently detonated by suicide bombers, killed at least 39 people at the Park Kultury station in the south and at Lubyanka station in the city center. Passengers leaving the latter station face the massive Lubyanka building complex, which was formerly the headquarters of the KGB and is now home to its successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB). It is a symbol of the power of the intelligence services -- and also their impotence.
"Naturally you can always assign part of the blame to the security forces," Nikolai Petrov, an expert on the Caucasus and terrorism at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But it is impossible to have 100 percent security."
In a State of Shock
By Monday evening, trains were running again on the Moscow metro and the Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations had both reopened. The city's inhabitants, however, were still in a state of shock. The city government declared Tuesday a day of mourning.
The head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, said investigators believed "terrorist groups related to the North Caucasus" were behind the attacks. "Fragments of the bodies of two female suicide bombers were found earlier at the scene of the incident and examinations show that these individuals came from the North Caucasus region," he said.
The suspected female suicide bombers are believed to be "black widows," as Russians call Islamist Chechen female suicide bombers whose husbands or sons have been killed by Russian forces. The FSB estimates that there were around 150 such terrorists in 2004. The female militants have been involved in a number of attacks in recent years, including the 2002 siege of a Moscow theater and a February 2004 bombing in the Moscow metro which killed 39 people.
Many of the women are recruited against their will, however. The Russian journalist Yulia Yusik, who traveled to Chechnya to research the phenomenon for her book "Allah's Brides," believes that only one in 10 "black widows" acts out of conviction. The others are forced into the role, she says. "Women in the Caucasus have no right to their own opinion and can not refuse to obey orders," Yusik told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding that the patriarchal society treats them "merely as a renewable resource."
Monday's attack was the first in Moscow since August 2004, when a female suicide bomber set off an explosion at the entrance to the Rizhskaya metro station. Since then there have been a number of serious attacks in the restive republics of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. In Moscow, however, people felt relatively safe -- partly because then-President Vladimir Putin had proclaimed victory in the struggle against Chechen separatists. In 2009, the "anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya was officially declared over, as a sign of a supposed return to normality. Now, just a few days before Easter, terror has returned to the Russian capital.
The Return of Terror
World leaders were quick to express their sympathy. US President Barack Obama condemned the attack as "outrageous" and said that "the American people stand united with the people of Russia." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled," and even Russia's old rival NATO declared that it would do everything possible to cooperate in the fight against international terrorism.
The Kremlin is now looking for the perpetrators. "Russia will fight terrorism without hesitation and to the end," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a hastily convened meeting of the heads of the country's security agencies, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the terrorists would be "destroyed."
But in Russia, doubts are growing as to whether the war against domestic terrorism can be won like that, despite recent successes in the struggle against terror. In the past weeks and months, Russian authorities have significantly increased pressure on the separatists who are fighting in Russia's North Caucasus to break away from Moscow and establish an Islamic theocracy. Several militant leaders have been killed by units from the Russian Interior Ministry and the FSB.
Just one year ago, the Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that he was sure only "50 to 70" militants still remained in Chechnya, adding that he was "firmly convinced" that they would be destroyed in the near future.
But the threat from the North Caucasus remains real, despite the two wars Russia has fought in Chechnya and despite the considerable financial resources the Kremlin has supplied to its representatives in the troubled regions in recent years.
A new wave of violence began last November, when terrorists buried an explosive device under the Moscow-St. Petersburg railway line. The bomb derailed the Nevsky Express train in the middle of the night, killing 26 people.
"To be fair, it must be said that many of the problems with the North Caucasus are not related to either Boris Yeltsin's or Putin's time in office," says Nikolai Petrov from the Carnegie Moscow Center. "They have deeper roots, for example in the way the Caucasus was once subjugated by the czars."
On the other hand, Petrov points out, the Kremlin has for years failed to work toward a fundamental solution to the conflict and lacks a convincing strategy in dealing with the problem. "It was important to Putin in particular to be able to show a short-term success in the North Caucasus at the end of his first term," said Petrov. "That's why he got involved with the Kadyrov clan."
Ramzan Kadyrov took power after his father Akhmad, who was also president of Chechnya, was assassinated. He has a reputation for brutally persecuting his opponents and is himself suspected of wanting greater autonomy. He recently suggested that Moscow should not deploy police forces from other parts of Russia to Chechnya, supposedly because of the costs involved.
Kadyrov, who is hated both by the moderate opposition and the Islamists and is feared by human rights activists, is now an obstacle to further stabilization and pacification in the region, Petrov believes. The North Caucasus is as fragile as ever, he says. "There are a lot of discontented people there, as well as too many weapons and many people who know how to use explosives."
"We can hope that such attacks like those on the Moscow metro do not happen again," says Petrov. "But that would be naive."
With reporting by Annette Langer