Monday was a dark day for Russia. An explosive device detonated on a crowded metro train as it departed from Sennaya Ploshchad station around 1430 local time. Eleven people were killed and over fifty injured to one degree or another. A second device was found at another metro station and defused before it could detonate. An investigation began immediately and it was not long before police labeled the incident a terror attack, specifically a suicide bombing. Today, Russian officials released the name of the bomber, Akbardzhon Dzhalilov, a 22 year old Central Asian national. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in the city at the time of the attack. It is not likely that there is a connection between his visit and the attack. Putin being in St Petersburg yesterday was merely a matter of happenstance.
Today, as St Petersburg attempts to return to normal amid increased security at transportation infrastructure locations there is speculation in the media on how the Russian government will respond to this terrorist attack. Russia is no stranger to terrorism and past attacks have favored transportation locations. They are especially soft targets with large amounts of people coming and going. Security is porous under the best conditions, however. It is simply not possible to screen each and every person stepping into or out of a metro station, bus terminal, or airport. Yesterday’s attack was the latest of many against transportation locations in Russia. One of the most infamous attacks was the 2009 bombing of the Nevsky Express train running between Moscow and St Petersburg that killed 29 people. Islamic militants from the North Caucasus were responsible for that attack.
The St Petersburg attack also reaffirms the grim reality that Russia has been wrestling with a terror problem long before it became involved in the Syrian conflict. The majority of bombers and attackers that have struck Russian targets have come from the North Caucasus region, a hotbed of instability and Islamic insurgency for decades, if not centuries. Many of the men and women responsible for launching terror attacks on Russian soil have come from this region or from Central Asia.
International reaction was swift in coming. Leaders from Europe to the United States expressed their remorse and offered aid if possible. President Trump spoke on the phone with Putin and personally extended his condolences. Combatting terrorism is one issue the US and Russia seem to agree on. Relations between the two nations have deteriorated in recent years, yet it’s the hope of many observers that fighting terrorism will provide some common ground for Washington and Moscow to build upon in the future.