Female bomber kills 10 in Moscow

Group says it supports Muslims in Chechnya

Same band claimed 2 jet crashes

Suicide Attacks

September 01, 2004|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a subway station here last night, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 50, authorities said. The bombing came a week after two plane crashes in Russia that officials blamed on Chechen rebels.

A group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombing at the Rizhskaya subway station, saying the attack was carried out in support of Muslims in Chechnya. The same group had claimed responsibility for twin plane crashes Aug. 24 that killed all 90 passengers and crew.

Within two hours of the explosion, the Federal Security Service, the nation's chief police agency, blamed the subway blast on a female suicide bomber. Russian television showed images of the wounded lying on asphalt and grass near two burning cars, as firefighters sprayed water on billowing flames.

The station is situated next to a major shopping complex off Moscow's Prospekt Mira, or Highway of Peace. At 8:15 p.m., when the blast occurred, the entrance would have been thronged with shoppers and commuters, because the workday in Moscow ends later than in the United States.

Valeri Gribakin, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said witnesses saw a woman heading toward the subway entrance until she spotted police checking documents and turned away. Moments later, an explosion shattered station windows and at least two cars caught fire.

"She ... was at the door when she saw two policemen," said Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. "She was scared, and turned and decided to destroy herself."

Alexei Borodin, 29, was walking with his mother when he heard "a very powerful bang."

"Something flew past my head," he told the Associated Press. "There were people lying in the square. There were pieces of bodies. We were walking through pieces of people."

The chief suspects in the apparent bombings of the two airliners are two women, thought to be Chechen. The women, or others using their identification papers, bought tickets shortly before takeoff.

Russian television referred to the subway bomber as a shahida, or "female martyr." The word refers to women from Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya who have staged more than a dozen suicide bombings in the past four years. More than 200 people have died in the blasts.

The women are also known as "black widows," because many have lost husbands or other family members in the conflict, which has been marked by atrocities on both sides. Chechen separatists and Muslim militants have waged a five-year war against Russia for control of the tiny north Caucasus region.

Gennady Gudkov, a member of the security committee of Russia's State Duma, or lower house of parliament, told NTV last night that the subway blast may have been designed to divert attention from preparations for a larger attack.

Last week's airline crashes were preceded by a bombing at a bus stop in southern Moscow. Four people were injured in that incident.

The surge in violence came in the days leading to and immediately after Chechnya's presidential elections.

On Sunday, the Kremlin's hand-picked candidate won Chechnya's presidential contest. The winner was Chechnya's interior minister, Alu Alkhanov, a career policeman and security official who has pledged to bring stability to the region.

Alkhanov succeeds President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May in the Chechen capital of Grozny. Kadyrov, who once declared a holy war against Russia, was considered a traitor by separatists.

Alkhanov has already been marked for death by the rebel leadership.

Yesterday's bombing was the latest in a series of attacks in the Russian capital in recent years. In February, a bombing in the Moscow subway killed 41 people. In December, five people died when a suicide bomber blew herself up in front of one of Moscow's hotels across the street from Red Square. She had asked passers-by for directions to the Duma, a block away.

Two years ago, Chechen guerrillas seized more than 700 hostages in a Moscow dinner theater, demanding that Russia withdraw from Chechnya. The 2 1/2 -day siege ended in the deaths of 129 hostages and 41 guerrillas.

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