The Volgograd bomber, a woman from Russia's volatile North Caucasus region, appears to have been aided by her husband, an explosives expert she recruited to the insurgency.
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Naida Asiyalova, the woman held responsible for a suicide bus bombing Monday in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, originally intended to carry out the attack in Moscow, authorities told Russia Today.
Ms. Asiyalova was a native of Dagestan, a volatile republic in Russia's North Caucasus region (which includes better-known Chechnya). Police are now hunting for her husband, an explosives expert for a Dagestani insurgent group, along with two other alleged conspirators.
The Investigative Committee of Russia, an FBI-like agency, told Russia Today that Asiyalova had a bus ticket from Dagestan to Moscow, but disembarked in Volgograd and boarded a local bus full of students. Six people died and dozens were wounded when she detonated the bomb. It remains unclear why she took a detour into Volgograd.
Several surviving passengers took notice when Asiyalova, who wore a green head scarf in the Muslim hijab style, boarded the bus. But news outlets offer conflicting reports of her behavior prior to the explosion. Dmitry Yudin, a student who survived the attack, said she seemed agitated, according to Radio Free Europe. "She was panicking and rushing saying, 'Out of my way. I need to get off fast'," he said.
But according to the Associated Press, Mr. Yudin described Asiyalova as looking "calm and collected" and said she kept a low profile.
Bombings and shootings occur daily in Dagestan, which has roiled with Islamist insurgency since two Chechen separatist wars in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, a powerful bomb was found and disarmed outside a shopping mall in Dagestan. But civilians are rarely targeted outside the North Caucasus region, which is far from both Volgograd and Moscow.
A police source told Reuters that Asiyalova's husband, Dmitri Sokolov, helped outfit another suicide bomber who blew herself up in May in Dagestan's capital of Makhachkala. Mr. Sokolov is from the Moscow suburbs.
"By all appearances, he prepared Naida Asiyalova for her suicide bombing," the police source told Reuters. Two more suspects, Ruslan Kazanbiyev and Kurban Omarov had reportedly been awaiting Asiyalova's arrival in Moscow.
The New York Times has reported on the unusual course of the couple's relationship to the insurgency:
While Muslim rebels in the Caucasus have made a deadly practice in recent years of recruiting “black widows” — the wives of slain fighters — to serve as suicide bombers, investigators said Ms. Asiyalova’s case had an unusual twist: She apparently recruited Mr. Sokolov after they met as students in Moscow. He converted to Islam and, according to local news reports, dropped out of the sight of family members in June 2012, apparently moving with Ms. Asiyalova to Dagestan to join the local jihad.
The bombing, and the revelation that it was intended for Moscow, comes after a week of intense racial conflicts in Russia's capital. On the evening before the Oct. 14 Muslim holiday Eid el-Adha, rioters attacked a shopping mall known for employing immigrants after an Azeri man stabbed an ethnic Russian to death. In response to the riot, Moscow police arrested 1,200 migrant workers employed at a nearby vegetable market, according to Radio Free Europe.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Volgograd bombing, but a Muslim prayer house in Volgograd was attacked with Molotov cocktails during the night following the explosion; a custodian was able to put out the fire.