The Cable

What We Know and Don’t Know About the St. Petersburg Metro Bomber

Important details begin to emerge about the 22-year-old suicide bomber.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 1.27.25 PM

The metro attack in St. Petersburg, Russia that killed 14 people and injured more than 60 was carried out by a 22-year-old suicide bomber from the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, Russian authorities said on Tuesday.

The man was identified by Russian and Kyrgyz investigators through DNA evidence and CCTV footage as Akbarjon Djalilov, a native of former Soviet Kyrgyzstan who became a Russian citizen. Little is known about Djalilov or the circumstances that led to his alleged radicalization, and no group has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack, which Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described as a “terrorist act.”

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abyldaev confirmed the bombing was a suicide attack, but said Djalilov’s motives were still unclear.

“Regarding the link with Islamic radicalism, we have to wait to know more until the investigation yields its full results,” Abyldaev said.

However, some details have already emerged about the bomber. According to Russian and Kyrgyz media, Djalilov became a Russian citizen in 2011, reportedly did military service in Russia, and later worked at a sushi bar in St. Petersburg. He originally moved to Russia with his parents, but they later returned to Osh, their hometown in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Kloop.kg, a Kyrgyz news site, reported on Tuesday that members of the country’s security services had brought Djalilov’s family in for questioning in Osh. Kloop.kg also spoke to several of Djalilov’s family members, who expressed shock that he was named as the culprit of the bombing and described him as a practicing Muslim but “not very religious.”

Djalilov’s page on VKontakte, a Russian social media site, included links to a website featuring sayings from a 18th century preacher whose teachings are the base for Wahhabism, a hardline branch of Islam. But no links to extremist groups has been found.

Djalilov was from an ethnic Uzbek family. Ethnic Uzbeks have long faced discrimination in southern Kyrgyzstan and Osh was the scene of inter-ethnic clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010, in which hundreds of people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Djalilov was brought to St. Petersburg as a teenager by his father to earn money to help pay for a new house after their old neighborhood had been destroyed by the ethnic riots. Because he moved to Russia at such a young age, Dzhalilov had never been a Kyrgyz citizen, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Russian authorities are still investigating whether Djalilov was working alone, but his involvement is sure to have policy implications for Moscow — and for the broader region. The bombing marks the first attack carried out in Russia by a Central Asian.

Hundreds of thousands of Central Asians currently live in Russia, having emigrated there in search of work. Many toil in construction and other low-paid jobs in poor conditions, hoping to send money back home to their families. Kyrgyzstan is one of the countries most reliant on remittances in the whole world, with money sent back home equating roughly one-third of the country’s GDP in 2015. That dependence has come under strain thanks to a weak Russian ruble: The value of remittances sent to Kyrgyzstan fell by roughly one-third last year.

Just why Djalilov blew himself up on Monday is not yet clear, but migration and economic marginalization have played a large role in the radicalization of Central Asians, according experts. Several studies and investigations have documented that many of the Central Asians who joined extremist groups in Syria were working in Russia when they were recruited and radicalized. Repressive religious policies across Central Asia are also said to be an important factor in driving radicalization in the region.

Former Soviet states provide the third-largest number of foreign fighters for the Islamic State, after Western Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, according to the Soufan Group and U.S. government reports.

Among that figure, an estimated 2,000 recruits are said to be from the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

This post was updated at 4:15 pm on April 4, 2017. 

Photo credit: VKontakte

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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