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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Terrorism Threats Put Police On Alert

Law-enforcement agencies have been ordered to step up security measures in response to official warnings that Chechen terrorism could strike Moscow and elsewhere.

A top security official said Wednesday that Chechen terrorists were planning to infiltrate the Russian region of Dagestan and use it as a base to mount bombing attacks on Russia, The Associated Press reported.

"We have information that leaders of illegal formations are planning a number of terrorist acts on the territory of Russia," said Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiyev, secretary of the Security Council of Dagestan, which borders Chechnya.

The threats are believed to be intended to pressure Russia into curbing military attacks on the Chechen capital, which federal troops first surrounded in December, Magdigadzhiyev said during a news conference in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala.

Russian military bases are among the areas being targeted, security officials at the news conference added.

In response to the threats - first alluded to by acting President Vladimir Putin on Friday during an Interior Ministry meeting - an anti-terrorist command center has been established in Moscow, Vasily Stavitsky, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, told Interfax.

The Defense Ministry has also placed its bases on alert and is ready to assist police, Interfax reported a ministry official as saying. The alert was likely to last from seven to 11 days, the official said.

In Moscow alone, the number of police patrolling the city has already been upped by 25 percent, according to Vladimir Zubkov, deputy head of the Moscow police press center.

In total, more than 20,000 police officers - including Interior Ministry troops based in Moscow and city police usually assigned to desk work - will be working 12-hour days with no days off until at least Feb. 1, as part of the so-called "Whirlwind-Antiterror" operation, Zubkov said Wednesday.

The beefed-up patrols will guard apartment buildings, gas pipes, bridges, hospitals and schools as well as train stations, airports and shopping centers. All vehicles entering the city will be stopped at checkpoints, and police will continue to conduct random document checks on the street, detaining and fining all non-Muscovites who have spent more than three days in the capital without city registration, Zubkov said.

"The goal is to make the lives of citizens secure," he said.

The apparent threat and heightened safety measures come as an unsettling reminder of last autumn's wave of apartment-block bombings in Moscow and the southern towns of Buinaksk and Volgodonsk.

The four powerful blasts, which killed a total of 300 people last September, were blamed on Chechen rebels and cited as a motivating factor in the military operation launched by Russia against Chechnya the same month.

The series of bombings began Aug. 31, with an explosion in the Manezh shopping center in central Moscow that killed one person and injured more than 40. That was followed Sept. 2 by a bomb at a military housing complex in Buinaksk in Dagestan, a southern republic adjacent to Chechnya, that claimed 64 lives.

On Sept. 8, a third explosion destroyed an apartment block on Ulitsa Guryanova in southern Moscow, killing 94. Another 119 Muscovites were killed five days later in an apartment bombing on Kashirskoye Shosse.

The final blast, which tore the facade off a nine-story apartment building in the southern Russian town of Volgodonsk on Sept. 16, killed at least 17 people and left several hundred injured.

Several more near-bombings have kept tensions running high. Last September following the apartment bombings, residents of a building in Ryazan suffered a bomb scare that the FSB in Moscow later said was just a training exercise.

And earlier this month police discovered explosive devices, which failed to activate properly, rigged to gas pipes in three buildings in the southern Russian town of Armavir.

Information about the ongoing bombing investigation has been sporadic and somewhat inconclusive. However, the FSB announced Tuesday that none of the 14 current suspects in the case are in fact Chechen.

According to FSB spokesman General Alexander Zdanovich, the suspects were "trained" in terrorist camps in Chechnya but were not ethnic Chechens, Interfax reported on Tuesday.

Zdanovich did not elaborate on the identities of the suspects, saying only: "At the present time the investigation is aware of the entire crime mechanism and those who carried out the crimes. ... "A total of 14 people are suspected of staging acts of terrorism, nine of whom are internationally wanted by Interpol."

As far as the FSB is aware, he said, the suspects are now staying in Chechen territory. "I do not doubt that sooner or later they will be arrested and stand trial," he added.

Immediately following the bombings, senior Russian officials were quick to accuse Chechen rebel commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab of ordering the blasts. Both Basayev and Khattab denied responsibility for the bombings, saying they were fighting the Russian army, not random civilians.

Just a week after the bombing in Volgodonsk, Russian law-enforcement officials said they had determined the identity of the man who had rented first-floor offices in both of the Moscow apartment buildings destroyed in the blasts: Achemez Gochiyayev, a native of the North Caucasus republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, who they accused of using the passport of a deceased man to rent the offices.

Composite sketches of Gochiyayev and his alleged accomplice, Denis Saitakov, were promptly posted around Moscow, but the two men were never detained and are believed to have fled to Chechnya, where Saitakov was believed to have attended a training camp run by Khattab.

Two more suspects - Bekmarz Sautiyev, of Ingush origin, and his brother-in-law Timur Dakhkilgov, both from Grozny - were detained at about the same time. Traces of hexagen, an explosive powder used in the bombings, were found on Dakhkilgov's hands and in Sautiyev's apartment.

Both men were employees at a Moscow factory producing paints in which hexane, a substance close to hexagen, is a component. Traces of hexane could be found on the hands of nearly all the factory's workers, but only the two former citizens of Grozny were detained in connection to the blasts.

Protests followed from the factory's workers and director, and when no further evidence was found linking the suspects to the blasts, they were released.

In late October the FSB named an Egyptian man as a possible sponsor of the Moscow bombings. The man, Said el-Maban, allegedly paid Chechen warlords $200,000 to carry out the bombings, FSB spokesman Zdanovich said at the time, adding that the suspect fled Russia immediately after the two blasts occurred in the capital and was never detained.

Last month, FSB officials announced they had arrested a total of eight people in connection with the four blasts, but news reports in mid-January suggest that no one has been formally charged with the bombings.

The FSB has also claimed that a terrorist-training school and bomb factory has been discovered in the southeastern Chechen town of Urus-Martan, now controlled by federal troops. A videotape featuring a tour of the bomb factory was shown on Russian television.

- Anna Badkhen contributed to this report.