One reason for this lethality is the use of suicide tactics. Only 13 (8 percent) of the 157 attacks were suicides using bombs or grenades. All but one of them stem from conflicts in the North Caucasus. Yet they accounted for 58 percent of all fatalities and 52 percent of all injuries. This toll becomes even more striking when we remove the 15 derailments (which did not involve suicides) of passenger trains, which generated a total of 34 fatalities and 306 injuries. The percentage of the total fatalities and injuries then jumps to 65 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
Train tracks were the terrorists’ most frequent target, with passenger and subway trains just behind them, figuring in 21 percent and 20 percent of their attacks. Derailments, as we have suggested earlier, also can be lethal. In 2009, terrorists detonated a bomb under Russia’s high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing 27 and injuring 95.
Moscow Metro attack was especially deadly
Passenger train and subway stations figured in about 10 percent of the attacks. Some of the deadliest terrorist attacks occurred on Moscow’s Metro. Bombings on subways and in enclosed subway stations proved to be the terrorists’ most lethal means of attack. In February 2004, a suicide bomber killed 41 people and injured 120 others in the Moscow Metro. A second suicide bomber in August 2004 killed 10 and wounded 50 people. In 2010, two nearly simultaneous suicide bombings in the Metro killed a total of 40 and injured 100 persons.
Buses like the one in Volgograd last month accounted for about 17 percent of the targets; bus stations and bus stops accounted for another 10 percent. Bombs were employed in almost all of these 43 attacks.
Looking at the ten most lethal combinations of bombs, targets, and how the bombs were delivered to those targets in attacks in Russia, seven (including the most lethal) involved suicides. Of these same ten attacks, the December 29 Volgograd station attack was the third most lethal combination, and the December 30 bus trolley attack the fifth most lethal. In fact, the Volgograd station attack is the ninth most lethal combination of all attacks in the world.
Russia’s terrorists have also attacked air travelers. In 2004, female suicide bombers brought down two Russian airliners on domestic flights, killing a total of 89 victims. In 2010, terrorists bombed Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 37. That attack was also blamed on Umarov’s group.
Russia likely to increase its already-high security
In response to this continuing threat, Russia has increased security at transportation targets and is likely to increase it further in response to the latest attacks in Volgograd, especially as we approach the Sochi Olympics.
However, there are limits to what can be done. Security at train stations can create lines of people waiting to go through security checkpoints, offering terrorists lucrative targets. And while buses can be protected, as the Israelis learned during the terrorist offensive of the Second Intifada, it is done only through a comprehensive and expensive program of intelligence, roving and permanent trained guards, awareness training for employees, and very strong citizen support and involvement.
While circumstances in Russia are unique, the Volgograd bombings conform to some long-term worldwide trends. Terrorist attacks on surface transportation targets are increasing and are increasingly lethal, with the biggest threat posed by multiple bomb attacks or campaigns targeting crowded train stations, commuter trains, subways and buses.
Each tragedy enables us to learn more and underscores the importance of doing so. Passenger screening can keep bombs off trains, but passengers waiting to go through security checkpoints remain vulnerable to attack. This will renew the debate about whether new security perimeters should be established at the entrances to train stations and airport terminals. The Volgograd attack also underscores the importance of intelligence, which failed in Volgograd, but it reportedly prevented other terrorist attacks in Russia.