Bribes, Police Bungling Got Terrorists on Russian Jetliners

First through police bungling, then in part through a petty bribe...


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 passenger jets 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 Wednesday. The fresh details that came to light on Wednesday 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, Mr. Ustinov said.

Mr. 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.'' Corruption is endemic in post-Soviet Russia, infecting virtually all spheres of life. A report published this week by The Economist Intelligence Unit, a service produced by the Economist magazine, estimated that bribes amounted to 4 percent of Russia's gross domestic product in 2001.

News today that a petty bribe may have led to the downing of a passenger jet was met 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 on Aug. 24. Their destruction marked the beginning of a series of terror acts in which hundreds of Russians have died.

A third woman exploded herself on Aug. 31 outside a subway station in Moscow, killing at least 10 people. And on Sept. 1, masked Islamic militants, most apparently of Chechen descent, seized a public school and more than 1,200 hostages in North Ossetia in the Caucasus region. The siege ended two days later in a battle in which at least 339 people died, more than half of them children.

Mr. Ustinov offered new details on Wednesday in an interview with the Interfax news agency and the Rossiskaya Gazeta newspaper; portions of his interview were distributed by Interfax. His office did not answer phone calls late on Wednesday night.

The prosecutor's comments, in the limited form available, left questions unanswered but provided the fullest account of the prelude to the bombings so far. Officials have said the bombings were carried out by Satsita Dzhbirkhanova, reportedly in her 40's, and Amanat Nagayeva, 26, both formerly of Grozny, the Chechen capital, apparently in retaliation for the suffering that has accompanied the Chechen war.

Mr. Ustinov said the women arrived from Dagestan, a republic adjacent to Chechnya, at the Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow at 7:45 p.m., accompanied by two other Chechens.

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