A dispatch from Moscow on the Domodedovo airport suicide bombing of January 24. Broadcast on January 30 as the second item on the weekly ‘World Report’ programme on RTÉ Radio 1 (Ireland).


Flags fly at half mast in snowy Moscow. It’s for the 35 victims of a suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport – the busiest international hub in Russia – that took place last Monday.

Staff at the airport tell me that services are operating as normal, although the site of the attack remains a closed crime scene. The blast happened in the international arrivals hall, an open area freely accessible to the public. Friends and relatives of passengers often wait here, along with scores of taxi drivers hoping to catch a fare, and security has now been stepped up.

Anyone entering the building must pass through a metal detector and have their bags scanned by an X-ray machine. These enhanced safety measures have restored faith for some air travellers: “Hopefully, it will be safer now than ever before,” says Claire-Anne Haines. She is flying home to London from Moscow, just two days after the attack. “It’s scary when something like this happens,” she tells me, “because it makes you realise that everyone can be a target. But I have full confidence in the Russian government.” As she speaks, a residual tension surrounds us, with police officers patrolling all areas of the terminal.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the airport attack, but suspicion has fallen on Islamic insurgents from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus. Witnesses reported that the explosive load may have been detonated by a woman – in similar fashion to the double strike on Moscow’s metro system in March last year, which took 40 lives.

Female suicide bombers of this kind are known as “black widows”. They are the wives or relatives of martyred militants who set out to take revenge. Muslim insurgency is rife in the North Caucasus, where fundamentalists want to establish an independent Islamic state. Attacks on local security forces happen on almost a daily basis, and in recent times the rebels have struck at civilian targets closer to the Russian heartland of Moscow and St Petersburg.

Meanwhile, as priests from the Russian Orthodox Church were conducting a solemn wake for the dead at the scene of the airport blast, President Dmitry Medvedev was in Davos, Switzerland, hoping to show the World Economic Forum that Russia represents a beneficial investment.

The global business community stood in silence for one minute to remember the Domododevo tragedy before President Medvedev’s keynote speech. He talked about the need to tackle the socio-economic roots of terrorism, before stating that Russia needs to attract the world’s leading minds as it continues on the long road to modernisation.

Ending Russian reliance on natural resources and slaying the dragon of corruption are among Medvedev’s major priorities. But, as the country slowly recovers from the world economic crisis, many experts believe potential investors may be further deterred by rising security fears. In terms of building positive business perceptions of Russia, the airport bombing looks to have been staged with the intention to inflict maximum impact.

However, Ben Judah, a Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes the Russian investment atmosphere has been improved by government reform and the recently announced joint oil venture with BP. “The real threat to Russia is not terrorism or civil discontent,” he tells me; “It is a sudden shoot-up and collapse of the oil price that would destroy growth prospects.

“In Davos, Mr Medvedev is likely to encounter much sympathy,” Judah continues. “Corruption and stagnant authoritarianism didn’t kill innocent people in the airport – it was an Islamic extremist. And what do European leaders think of this weakened, crisis-hit Russia? They like it, as they think it is a Russia you can do business with.”

Nevertheless, with just over three years until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi – which is adjacent to the simmering North Caucasus – and Russia’s successful bid for the football World Cup in 2018, the terror concern remains an issue of international importance.

For World Report, this is Frederick Bernas in Moscow.