Suicide attack near Kremlin kills 6

14 other people wounded by woman wearing bomb

Chechen rebels suspected

December 10, 2003|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - A bomb worn by a woman looking for the Russian parliament building exploded within sight of the Kremlin's towers yesterday morning, killing six people, including the bomber, and injuring 14 others.

The incident was the most recent in a string of more than a half-dozen suicide bombings in Russia this year that authorities have blamed on rebels from Chechnya.

Five days ago, a suicide bomber set off an explosive on a train in southern Russia, killing 44 people. But none of the other blasts has come so close to the Kremlin, the center of Russian power.

The midmorning explosion occurred outside the luxury National Hotel, a block from parliament, perhaps 300 yards from Red Square, and around the corner from Tverskaya Street, the heart of Moscow's luxury shopping district.

The blast, which had the power of more than 2 pounds of dynamite, shattered first- and second-story windows in the hotel and wrecked a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan parked out front.

It scattered victims' remains on the snow-dusted sidewalk, witnesses said, including the body of the suspected bomber, a woman wearing a long coat.

The dead and injured included four 19-year-olds, at least some of them students at Moscow State University, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. The university's journalism school is a short distance from the site of the explosion.

Debris sprayed across Mokhovaya Street, striking several visitors in the complex of gardens and plazas just outside the Kremlin walls. One unidentified 41-year-old woman told Tass that the explosion hurled her several feet and showered pedestrians with glass splinters.

Olga Truten, 15, and two friends were heading for a day of shopping at a mall near Red Square when they heard the blast.

"There was a lot of smoke," she said. "All the windows were broken. And there was a man covered with blood lying right by the window."

Police at first suggested that the attack might have been connected with a business dispute. But investigators later said they found the remains of a "suicide belt" loaded with ball-bearings and explosives, raising suspicions that it was connected to Chechen rebels and inspiring fears of a new wave of bombings.

Bomb experts used a robot equipped with a gun and water cannon to detonate fragments of the device that had failed to explode and to destroy a briefcase that might have contained another one.

The attack occurred two days after Russia's controversial parliamentary elections, in which parties supported by the government of President Vladimir V. Putin swept to power.

The bomb exploded just before 11 a.m., as Putin was preparing to speak with regional leaders at a meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of Russia's Constitution, celebrated Friday.

He praised the document as the foundation of Russia's move toward a market economy and democracy.

"The actions of criminals, terrorists, which we have to confront even today, are aimed against all that," Putin said.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov told the Interfax news agency that the bomber had asked passers-by for the location of the parliament, which is headquartered in a gray Soviet-era structure a block east of where the explosion occurred.

Luzhkov said he didn't know the bomber's intended target, but added that it probably wasn't the hotel.

"Evidently, the bomb went off by accident," he said.

Police said they are seeking a second suspect in the bombing, a short woman in her early 40s who may have detonated the bomb by remote control. They were also studying videotape of the incident captured on security cameras.

Over the past year, almost 300 people have been killed in Russia in bombings and other attacks blamed on separatists from the Russian republic of Chechnya, in the northern Caucasus Mountains.

On Friday, a passenger on a commuter train in southern Russia, not far from Chechnya, set off a bomb that killed 44 passengers, many of them students on their way to university classes.

Chechen women have played a prominent role in the bombing campaign, condemned by some moderate Chechen separatists but supported by the rebellion's radical Islamic faction.

About 50 Chechens armed with guns and explosives seized hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater last year, resulting in the deaths of 129 hostages. Among the guerrillas were 18 women, most or all of whom wore explosive belts.

Two Chechen suicide bombers, both women, struck a rock concert at Moscow's Tushino Airport on July 5, killing 16 and injuring 59. A bomb carried by a woman in downtown Moscow a few days later killed a sapper trying to defuse it.

In an interview on Al-Jazeera television last month, Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi, commander of the Arab resistance fighters in Chechnya, said the woman bombers are seeking revenge for their rape by Russian soldiers, or for the killing of husbands or family members.

"They do not accept being humiliated and living under occupation," he said.

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