The bomb, which Russian news agencies said was equivalent to seven kilograms (15.4 pounds) of TNT, went off just after 3 p.m. in the crowded arrivals area of Domodedovo airport. Domodedovo is used as a Russia gateway by British Airways, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, El Al, and many airlines of former Soviet countries.
The domestic section of Domodedovo is the main arrival point for flights from Russia's troubled southern regions, including the north Cacasus.
A 'knot' of problems in north CaucasusA high-ranking Russian security official told the independent Interfax agency that the explosion was caused by "terrorism," possibly originating in a flight from the north Caucasus.
"This is a serious failure of special services," he says. "No one can carry out such acts alone. He needs to be trained, equipped, and supported by an organized group. Our intelligence services have clearly not been able to catch these groups."
He adds: "Our society just does not recognize the seriousness of the situation in the north Caucasus. There is a knot of problems, and every year they are not dealt with they grow and become more difficult to solve."
Medvedev cancels tripRussian President Dmitry Medvedev, who postponed a planned trip to the Davos economic forum when the news hit, was quoted by news agencies as saying the perpetrators would be hunted down and punished.
Experts say the explosion will almost certainly be traced to Russia's volatile north Caucasus region, where political murders, bombings, and kidnappings are an almost daily occurrence.
Stability has been gradually collapsing in the mainly Muslim region, but little of the violence gets reported beyond Russian media until a terrorist attack hits a large Russian city, as last happened nearly a year ago when twin suicide bombers hit the crowded Moscow metro at morning rush hour, killing almost 40 people.
Separatist movement has taken on an Islamist thrustOne possible suspect is Doku Umarov, the Chechen warlord who took over the mantle of separatist rebels – who fought two wars for Chechen independence from Russia – and gave it a militant Islamist ideological thrust.
Violence has returned even to Chechnya over the past year, despite Kremlin claims that the republic has been pacified and is returning to normal under pro-Moscow strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.
"Nobody should be surprised by this attack, particularly Russian security services," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, an online journal that studies the secret services. "The [terrorists'] tactic is to step up activities in the Caucasian republics and bring it to Moscow. Terrorist activities have growing in number in the north Caucasus region," and it was only a matter of time before they struck in Russia's heartland again, he says.
Domodedovo airport, which was shut down by a massive power outage during a late December ice storm, is considered Russia's most modern airport, but is also its busiest. Many experts have warned that it lacks facilities to handle all the traffic it generates.
"Domodedovo is too crowded and has too many routes," says Mr. Soldatov. "We all remember recent problems," he says referencing a power blackout that shut the entire airport down for two days.