0

Putin talks tough after bombings

Photo by Alexei Nikolsky

Photo by Alexei Nikolsky

MOSCOW -- The old Vladimir Putin is back, confronting a terrorist attack in Moscow by using the same kind of coarse and colorful language that helped him win the presidency a decade ago.

A day after twin suicide bombings in the subway that killed 39 people, the powerful prime minister told Russians that he is certain the masterminds of the attacks would be found. The security services have blamed extremists from the North Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia that includes Chechnya.

''We know they are lying low, but it is already a matter of pride for the law enforcement agencies to drag them out of the sewer and into broad daylight,'' Putin said, directing a transportation security meeting that was shown on Russian television Tuesday.

The choice of the gutter language recalled Putin's famous threat to ''wipe out the Chechen rebels in the outhouse'' after they were blamed for a series of apartment building bombings that terrorized Moscow in 1999.

Putin, as prime minister at the time, sent in overwhelming military force to pound the region into submission and was elected president the following year.

Now in his second stint as prime minister after serving two full terms as president, Putin has an excuse to revert to the tough line that shored up his authority following past terrorist attacks. While welcomed by many Russians, it also is raising fears that civil liberties may be further sacrificed under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Capitalizing on the outrage, members of the Kremlin-loyal parliament proposed bringing back the death penalty for terrorism. Russia has imposed a moratorium on capital punishment, but has been reluctant to outlaw it due to broad public support for the death penalty.

Monday's subway bombings, carried out by two women, are the first terrorist attacks in Moscow in six years. They have shaken a city that has been insulated from the violence still raging in the restive southern corner of the country.

Russia observed a day of mourning Tuesday, with flags at half-staff at the Kremlin and across the vast country. Relatives identified the dead at a Moscow morgue, and tearful commuters placed candles at makeshift memorials heaped with carnations inside the two stricken subway stations in the city center.

Heightened transportation security remained in effect across the capital and elsewhere. Police with machine guns and dogs patrolled subway entrances.

The attacks signaled to Russians that they are no safer than they were before Putin came to power.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but many speculated that they were retaliation for the recent killings of Islamic militant leaders in the North Caucasus, including one known for training suicide bombers.