Russia market bomb marks new level in race attacks
MOSCOW – A bomb blast this week at a multi-ethnic market in Moscow that killed 10 people marked a dramatic escalation in a violent campaign by Russian far-right militants against immigrants. Russia has seen a wave of racially-motivated attacks but until Monday’s bombing most were no more sophisticated than youths with shaved heads attacking dark-skinned people in the street, many of them immigrants from poor ex-Soviet republics.
Prosecutors said they had charged two students with racially-motivated murder over the bombing. A third man was being questioned. Racist literature and bomb-making materials were found in their dormitory, said prosecutors.
“What we are talking about is a group that was deep underground and which used techniques that amount to terrorism,” said Vladimir Novitsky, legal director of the non-governmental Moscow Human Rights Bureau.
“This is of course a new level of preparation compared to the attacks by skinheads which are usually just opportunistic,” said Novitsky, who has represented targets of race-hate propaganda in court. “This is a cause for concern.”
“Unfortunately, we do not have grounds to say this was an isolated case…You cannot rule out that there are more such groups out there,” Novitsky told Reuters.
Human rights group Amnesty International has said race-related crimes are out of control in Russia. President Vladimir Putin has ordered police to crack down on the problem.
The most common targets are people from ex-Soviet republics, many of whom have dark skin and have arrived in Russia to work in its booming economy.
Foreign students have also been attacked, with two Africans killed in the past year.
Attacks by Chechen separatists that have killed hundreds of civilians in Russia have helped fan suspicion of people who do not look Russian.
Chechens are dark-skinned Muslims and the suspicion many Russians feel toward them has extended to other groups who look similar but have no connection to the decade-old conflict in Chechnya.
Igor Yeleferenko, a legislator in Moscow’s City Council who heads the chamber’s committee on ethnic relations, told a new briefing Russia needs to be open about racism in society if it is to stamp it out.
“We should not be shy about this problem,” he said. “There needs to be a campaign of street advertisements and a media project which talk about different ethnic groups.”
“It so happens that in our eyes if somebody is a Chechen he is a terrorist who virtually eats children.” In the most high-profile attack before Monday’s bombing, a nine-year-old girl from Tajikistan died from multiple stab wounds after a gang attacked her and members of her family in a St Petersburg street in February 2004.
In the latest attack, a home-made bomb ripped through the densely-packed Cherkizovo market in an eastern suburb of Moscow. Most of the traders there are from ex-Soviet republics or from China or Vietnam.
Seven of the 10 people killed in the bombing have so far been identified. Officials said two were Russian. The rest were from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two ex-Soviet states.