The Omsk bomb threats which occurred in the wake of elections to the city council were both numerous and massive: more than 56 buildings were emptied and more than 7500 people were evacuated in the first day; and more in the following three days. Shortly thereafter similar calls in Perm led to the evacuation of about 130,000 people.
On September 13, 2017, the first such threats hit Moscow. The callers said that bombs had been placed in Moscow railroad stations, in universities, and in trade centers. And immediately after that, a similar wave of 30 telephone calls took place in St. Petersburg. Thousands more people were evacuated.
In the last quarter of 2017, in fact, anonymous callers made bomb threats about “approximately 2,000” locations in 75 subjects of the Russian Federation, Voronov reports.
Much remains unclear about these telephone threats. Several months before the Omsk calls, a document appeared on line about “planned terrorist acts on the territory of Russia” (vk.com/wall-50738246_1799583), Voronov says; and some regional FSB officials seconded this (ngs55.ru/news/more/51203821/ and omskzdes.ru/society/50209.html).
But the FSB in Moscow continued to maintain that the evacuations were the result not of any exercise but of anonymous callers possibly from the Islamic State or Ukraine (ria.ru/incidents/20171212/1510769611.html), and officials have continued to make statements to that effect ever since.
What the FSB is saying, Voronov suggests, may very well be true; but the agency has good reason to deflect attention from its role if indeed these were exercises. If they weren’t, then the FSB recommendations that led to closing emergency exits in shopping centers and the deaths in some of them can’t be blamed on ISIS or Ukraine. They rest on the Russian organs.
And that is something the FSB and the Kremlin clearly want to avoid, especially given that there is a precedent for suggestions that the organs were behind this. Voronov notes that “the practice of unannounced training exercises were used in Russia earlier” as in 2016 when it was done at a medical college in Tikhviin in Leningrad oblast (snob.ru/selected/entry/117866).
The threat to the authorities may have intensified after the evacuations in Moscow and St. Petersburg when more people began to pay attention to the problem of telephone bomb threats. “The official version remained telephone terrorism,” Voronov says. But even up to now, it is not clear why on the occasion of such a broad attack the population wasn’t told anything about it.”
Some Duma deputies began talking about imposing criminal penalties on telephone terrorists, and a few cases were opened against people charged with related crimes. But the authorities did not talk much about these cases and did not point to any broader conspiracy behind the actions.
Moreover, Voronov says, “the anonymous calls didn’t stop: More than that, in October 2017, a new wave … took place,” now directed at government buildings and the residences of senior officials. But still the government did not issue any statement. The FSB did say it knew who had made the calls but hadn’t yet arrested them (interfax.ru/russia/581992).
On this anniversary of the first such telephone threats, the journalist concludes, many questions remain unanswered -- and the lack of answers is only feeding suspicions and fears.