Porous security cited in bombings of Russian planes

1 suspect bribed her way on board, prosecutor says

September 16, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - First through police bungling, then in part through a petty bribe, the two Chechen women who killed themselves and 88 others in the bombings of two Russian jetliners last month were able to pass uninspected through layers of airport security and checks, even after being identified as possible terrorists, Russia's senior prosecutor said yesterday.

The fresh details that came to light about the worst terrorist acts to strike Russia's aviation industry provide a chilling view of the nation's weaknesses as it tries to defend itself from escalating terror strikes.

In an interview with the Russian news media, Prosecutor General Vladimir V. Ustinov said that the two women had been detained in the airport shortly before boarding, but both were released by a police supervisor, and one swiftly bribed her way onto the aircraft she would later destroy. She paid a paltry sum: the price to board Sibir Airlines Flight 1047, a Tupolev-154 with 45 other people on board, with a ticket for the next day's flight was equivalent to $34, he said.

Ustinov reported that the investigation into the bombings "has established that a Sibir Airlines official who was responsible for controlling passenger registration and boarding allowed one of the female terrorists to board the airplane in violation of all regulations and for a bribe."

News that a petty bribe may have led to the downing of a passenger jet was met yesterday with sadness and resignation, as well as worry about whether Russia would ever be able to defend itself from a foe that would understand implicitly that for the right price, even an essential part of Russian security can be breached.

"I am going to say something extremely scary for me as a Russian citizen and a Russian mother, but I was always expecting something like this to happen," said Elena Panfilova, director of the Moscow office of Transparency International, an international nonprofit group that campaigns against corruption. "Nobody in public life has really been linking this problem of petty corruption with security."

Sibir Airlines Flight 1047 and the second aircraft, Volga AviaExpress Flight 1303, vanished from radar almost simultaneously after leaving Moscow's most modern airport Aug. 24.

Officials have said the bombings were carried out by Satsita Dzhbirkhanova, reportedly in her 40s, and Amanat Nagayeva, 26, both formerly of Grozny, the Chechen capital, apparently in retaliation for the suffering that has accompanied the Chechen war.

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