The leader of Islamist militants in Russia's North Caucasus on Tuesday claimed last month's bombing of Moscow's main airport as President Dmitry Medvedev fired a raft of security officers over the attack.
Doku Umarov, the head of a Chechnya-based rebel group that aims to enforce Islamic rule, also issued a chilling warning of more suicide strikes in a video two weeks after the attack at Domodedovo airport which killed 36 people.
|An IntelCenter photo shows the Caucasus Emirate Emir Doku Umarov, who has claimed responsibility for the January attack on Moscow's Domodedovo Airport|
"This special operation was carried out on my orders," said the bearded militant in a video posted on the Kavkaz Centre website which is the main channel for messages by North Caucasus rebels.
"There is no doubt of this, as we will have hundreds of brothers who will be ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of enforcing the word of Allah and to avenge the enemies of Allah," he said.
Umarov, whom Russian special forces have repeatedly tried and failed to kill over the last few years, was shown wearing a black skullcap and khaki military fatigues, apparently speaking from inside a tent.
Umarov last year also claimed the suicide attacks on the Moscow metro in March carried out by female suicide bombers that killed 40 and wounded dozens during the morning rush hour.
He said the January 24 airport attack staged at the international arrivals hall was aimed at avenging Russia's crimes in the North Caucasus region and warned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin future attacks could be even deadlier.
"I am showing the Putin regime one more time that we can carry out these operations wherever and whenever we want," Umarov said.
"This is proof again that we can carry out these operations and we can execute more aggressive operations against you."
While there was no official reaction to Umarov's claim, the Kremlin did announce that several members of the FSB security service had been sacked for failures that led to the bombing.
"The head of the Federal Security Service gave (Medvedev) a list of employees responsible for miscalculations in their work, who were fired for inadequately carrying out their responsibilities," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalia Timakova was quoted by the ITAR-TASS agency as saying.
If the investigation shows that more security service employees were at fault, "they, too, will be punished," she said.
In a statement, the FSB said only that "several high-ranking officers have been called to account" over the Domodedovo blast.
The Kremlin has fought two post-Soviet wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya, but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring regions such as Ingushetia and Dagestan.
There had been confusion last year over Umarov's role in the insurgency when the rebel -- also known by his nom-de-guerre of Abu Usman -- retracted an announcement that he was stepping down and vowed to carry on the insurgency.
But in a return to prominence as the Kremlin's number one foe, Umarov had warned last week in a separate message that Russia would see a year of "blood and tears."
In the latest message, he also adopted the rhetoric of militants around the world, railing against the Western role in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
"When our brothers and sisters are killed the whole world stays silent but when we hit back -- which is our right -- everyone throws themselves on us," he said.
Umarov called on Russia to prevent more bloodshed and "leave the Caucasus", a region where Russian rule dates back to the Tsarist era.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said giving up the Caucasus and negotiating with "terrorists" was not an option.
Russian security officials have said the Domodedovo airport bombing attack was carried out by a 20-year-old from one of the North Caucasus republics who was high on drugs.
Umarov has evaded capture in the thickly forested valleys of the Caucasus mountains for almost two decades, although Russian authorities have several times prematurely announced his death.
He was known as an ally of notorious rebel chief Shamil Basayev, who claimed to have led dozens of bloody attacks, including the infamous 2004 Beslan school hostage siege that killed over 330 people, most of them children.