Bombing kills 41 on Russian train

More than 150 injured in suicide attack blamed on Chechen militants

December 06, 2003|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - The death toll rose to at least 41 in a suicide bomb attack yesterday on a commuter train near Chechnya.

"The crime committed today is undoubtedly an attempt to destabilize the situation" before tomorrow's parliamentary elections, President Vladimir V. Putin said in televised remarks made during a meeting with top law enforcement officials.

"I'm sure the criminals will not succeed."

Three women and a man are suspected of carrying out the bombing yesterday morning, which largely destroyed the second coach of the train, Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said at the meeting with Putin.

"Two of the women jumped off the train just before the explosion. One of them was injured [and] will not likely survive," Patrushev said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. "The fragments of a male body have been found. Hand grenades were attached to his legs. The man was the suicide attacker."

The attack took place near the town of Yessentuki in southern Russia's Stavropol region.

"I would tie this crime, as one of the possible leads, to the activities of Chechen terrorists," Justice Minister Yuri Chaika told the Interfax news agency.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who also is a leader of United Russia, the pro-Putin party expected to place first in tomorrow's balloting, told a meeting of World War II veterans: "We'll find those who have committed this act of terror. The land will burn under their feet. These beasts will not feel themselves safe."

Putting an openly political spin on his comments, Gryzlov declared that Putin wants to build "a lasting peace" in the Caucasus region but this "enrages those who don't want a strong government." United Russia's basic platform is to build a stronger government by supporting Putin.

Stanislav Belkovsky, general director of the National Strategy Council, a Moscow think tank, said he did not believe the attack would have any influence on how people vote.

"People are used to hearing about acts of terror in the North Caucasus, and for them it is not something revealing and outrageously new," he said. "If a terrorist act of such dimensions happened in Moscow or some other big city of central Russia, then it would have a bigger political impact. But the way things are, for the public at large nothing extraordinary has happened that could be strong enough to change their election preferences."

NTV television reported that the Stavropol region has seen 11 militant acts in the past 18 months. One was the Sept. 3 bombing of a train packed with students on their way to school. Six died and more than 50 were wounded in that incident.

Many students also died in yesterday's blast, which the Emergency Situations Ministry said left 155 injured.

Pro-Kremlin Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov condemned the attackers in bitter terms that hinted at the brutality of the conflict between separatist rebels and Russian forces.

"I don't know how the individuals who plan and perpetrate acts of terrorism directed against civilians, women, children and old men can be regarded as humans, how they can be tried as humans or treated as humans," he said in comments reported by the Russian news agency Interfax.

International human rights organizations say that abuses by Moscow's troops in Chechnya have triggered much of the anger that inspires resistance.

Chechens exercised self-rule in their Caucasus republic after defeating Russian troops in a 1994-1996 war. Russian forces returned in 1999 and have fought guerrillas since. Aslan Maskhadov, who won Chechnya's presidency in 1997, is now a key rebel leader. Representatives of his faction posted on their Internet site a denial of any involvement in yesterday's attack.

Patrushev said at the meeting with Putin that authorities have headed off numerous attacks and have recently arrested, tried and sentenced 29 individuals involved in planning attacks, while 19 have been killed while resisting detention. No details were reported.

Yesterday's attack showed how, Putin said, "international terrorism, which has presented a challenge to many countries of the world, continues to remain a serious threat to our country as well."

"It is a cruel, crafty and dangerous enemy," he said. "It is first of all innocent people who suffer from its crimes."

Russian Air Force Col. Gen. Igor Maltsev said in an interview that yesterday's blast appears to reflect "classic guerrilla warfare" by organized militants.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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