Russian court convicts 6 men in 1999 apartment bombing

Blast helped mobilize support for Chechen war


MOSCOW - A Russian court convicted six men yesterday - sentencing two of them to life terms - in the September 1999 bombing of an apartment building in the republic of Dagestan.

The blast was the first of a series of bombings that killed 367 Russians and injured more than 650 others in late 1999 and mobilized public opinion in favor of the war against separatist rebels in Chechnya, which borders Dagestan.

The trial, which started in late November, is the first court proceeding brought by Russian prosecutors to pin responsibility for the wave of apartment bombings that also incited then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to escalate a limited military action into a full-scale military assault to crush the Chechen resistance, a battle that festers as a low-intensity conflict of skirmishes and mine warfare.

The strong public response backing Putin's hard line helped to propel the former intelligence agency chief to the presidency.

The bombings so galvanized support for the Chechen war that they gave rise to accusations by Chechen leaders and other critics of Putin's policies that Russia's intelligence services had orchestrated the bombings to drum up support for the war, accusations that have been categorically denied by Putin and Russia's security services.

The six defendants were described by prosecutors as Islamic extremists who were under the command of the Chechen rebel leader known as Khattab and another leader, Shamil Basayev. They were part of a group of nine accused of planning and setting off the explosion that destroyed a residential building that housed Russian military personnel and their families in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk.

Russian security services say they have suspects in each of the bombing cases.

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