Russian officials face tough dilemma regarding terrorism 

Monday’s bloody bombing in Moscow established one grim new development in terrorism: Unable to attack airliners because of stepped-up security, the terrorists have turned to the next-most-vulnerable targets in air travel, the terminals themselves.

A suicide bomber, a 30-something man believed to be from the Caucasus, entered the international-arrivals area of Domodedovo Airport and pushed into the area where families, friends and cab drivers awaited the disembarking passengers. He detonated a small briefcase packed with ball bearings, metal bolts and screws, and 15 pounds of TNT or its equivalent. The blast killed 35 people and gravely wounded scores more. Among the gory carnage left behind, police believe they have found the bomber’s head.

The immediate aftermath followed a predictable Russian pattern. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intoned that “retribution is inevitable,” and no one doubts that he means it. President Dmitry Medvedev blasted airport management for allowing security checks to fall into “a state of anarchy.” Airport management blamed transport security. Further, Medvedev demanded “total examination” of passengers and baggage.

The truth is, the Kremlin does not have a lot of good options. Domodedovo is the busiest of Moscow’s three airports with more than 20 million visitors a year, and a “total examination” of each of them would effectively shut it down.

Russia brutally suppressed two attempts by the republic of Chechnya to break away from its parent country and has been paying the penalty in acts of terrorism ever since. There have been bloody hostage-takings in a theater and a crowded grade school, the suicide bombings of two internal flights (that, as it happened, departed from Domodedovo) and, in March, two female terrorists — Black Widows, the Russians call them — blew themselves up on the Moscow subway system, killing 40.

In theory, a negotiated settlement might still be reached with the separatists, but they have been taken over by radical Islamists who envision not just Chechen autonomy but an independent Islamic “emirate” covering the Caucasus. No one can imagine Moscow agreeing to that.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has embarked on a campaign to reassure skittish foreign investors that Russia is a safe place to do business and a safe place to come visit for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. That task became immeasurably harder this week.

Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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