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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

National Security Alert Lasts a Day

ReutersPolice patrolling Manezh Square on Wednesday. No extra uniformed-police presence was noticed in the center.
The day after the National Anti-Terrorist Committee warned of a possible terrorist attack on public transportation, officials announced broad, unprecedented security measures in Moscow and around the country on Wednesday.

But there were few signs in Moscow of extra police or other security measures said to have been put in place in metro stations, on roads and in schools.

By early evening, the security alert was called off, with National Anti-Terrorist Committee spokesman Nikolai Sintsov saying no evidence of a terrorist threat had been found.

In issuing the alert late Tuesday, Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the committee, said the information on a possible terrorist attack had come from "foreign partners." The security alert was the committee's first since its creation in February by President Vladimir Putin.

Wednesday's drive, unusual because of its national scope and the public declaration of the possible threat, had hallmarks of a drill, designed perhaps to mobilize citizens in a fight against terrorism.

One indication that the heightened security measures were planned for only one day came from a mobile telephone company. Inna Kirpichova, a spokeswoman for Beeline, said the company had received a message from the IT and Communications Ministry that Beeline's service on the metro would be switched off all day Wednesday but would be restored at midnight.

The commander of Interior Ministry troops, Nikolai Rogozhkin, said more than 5,000 troops were sent to guard transportation facilities in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other big cities on Wednesday. This included metro stations, train stations, airports, ports and roads.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists that security was boosted around all key military and government facilities. Unified Energy Systems also announced that it had increased security at its installations.

In Moscow, Mayor Yury Luzhkov released a statement saying he had ordered the city police and other emergency services to boost security in public places and at transportation facilities, and he urged public vigilance.

With new security equipment and tougher procedures already in place at Moscow airports after two Chechen female suicide bombers blew up two airborne passenger jets in August 2004, killing 90 people, authorities said they focused their efforts Wednesday on the crowded Moscow metro. The metro has been targeted by suicide bombers in the past, including twice in 2004, with more than 50 people killed in the attacks.

The shutdown of mobile phone services in the metro on Wednesday, apparently in an effort to prevent a remote-controlled detonation, was a reminder of the immediate aftermath of those attacks, when phone service also was cut.

Itar-Tass / AP
Nikolai Patrushev
There was little sign of increased policing of the metro system in stations around the Kremlin on Wednesday afternoon, but Interior Ministry spokesman Pavel Glimovsky said most of the extra operatives were in plain clothes. The police were working in coordination with the Federal Security Service, or FSB, Glimovsky said, refusing to elaborate. There were police with dogs at metro stations connecting to railway stations, such as the Komsomolskaya and Kievskaya metro stations, he said.

Certainly, it seemed Tuesday night's announcement did little to scare passengers off the metro, with cars filled in the morning to their maximum capacity as usual. "Of course, you worry about what might happen," said medical student Andrei, 24. That moment, the afternoon train he was on screeched to a halt without making it out of the Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. In the half-empty car, passengers with nervous smiles twitched and murmured before the five-second wait ended with the train rumbling out of the station. "Like I said, you do worry," said Andrei, this time with a chuckle. "But it's not enough to stop people in a city where everyone is in such a rush." He uses the metro to get to Moscow State University every day.

Meanwhile, several motorists who drove into Moscow from the Moscow region reported no extra security at the police checkpoints along the city's boundaries. Also, despite an announcement made by the city's education department of heightened security in schools and special training for children on how to behave in case of a terrorist attack, students and parents from two randomly selected city schools said nothing like this occurred Wednesday.

A special presidential envoy on international cooperation to battle terrorism, Anatoly Safonov, told Interfax that the warning of possible attacks was received "through partner channels from foreign special services, and not through just one channel." He did not elaborate.

An FSB spokesman said he was not authorized to name the "foreign partners" and would not comment on Tuesday's announcement. It also was not clear who might pose the terrorist threat. For many months, Russia has seen a lull in large-scale terrorist attacks, while organizers of past major attacks, such as Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, have been hunted down by special forces.

The Chechen separatists called Wednesday's security buildup "hysteria" in a statement posted on the Kavkaz Center web site.

Security measures similar to those in Moscow were reported from around the country in a steady stream of dispatches by Interfax.

Sintsov, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee spokesman, said Wednesday's efforts were focused on curbing the illegal circulation of firearms and checking out anonymous reports of terrorist attacks in the planning. "As a result of the undertaken efforts, the terrorist threat for land transport and the metro was minimized," he said.

Legislation on transportation security that defines measures to be taken at transportation facilities during security alerts cleared the State Duma in a second reading on Wednesday. The bill also bars former convicts, alcoholics and drug addicts from working in some sectors of the transportation industry.

Alexander Khramchikhin, a security analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, said Wednesday's security measures were unusual in that Russians usually only learn about terrorist threats after an attack takes place or when the security services announce that they had successfully averted one.

"This is why Wednesday's campaign looks very much like a PR action by the security services," Khramchikhin said.

He warned that if such terrorist emergencies are declared frequently, people could become used to them, and then they could be used to legally suspend public gatherings and free speech.

Sergei Goncharov, a veteran of the FSB's Alfa elite unit and an expert on terrorism, said the intensively publicized security effort, which he said was unique in its scale and openness, was aimed largely at engaging people in the fight against terrorism. "No special service in the world can in fact protect a big, populated city by putting a policeman on every bus stop," he said. "But such campaigns are very helpful in mobilizing citizens to watch for threats around them."

Goncharov pointed at the United States, where color-coded terrorist alerts serve to boost public vigilance.

Andrei, the medical student in the metro, said he believed the FSB's warning was genuine, but questioned its decision to publicize the information.

"Either they should warn people and close the metro, or deal with the threat without spreading fear," he said.

Another passenger, at the Savyolovsky metro station, struck a more cynical tone. "How is Putin's [favored] successor going to win if he doesn't scare the country?" the middle-aged man said, asking to remain anonymous.

Police found a plastic box with 200 capsules of what is thought to be medicine at the Voikovskaya metro station on Wednesday, Interfax reported. "Infectious" was written on the box.

The capsules, currently undergoing laboratory testing, were found lying on the platform near the southern entrance of the station, a police spokesman said.