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Metro outrage

at 29/03/2010 22:18

Anna Arutunyan, Oleg Nikishenkov and Anna Sulimina

Moscow is reeling after two blasts killed at least 39 people in the first terrorist bombing to hit the capital's metro system in six years.

Targeting two of the city's busiest stops during morning rush hour on Monday, two female bombers - reportedly from the North Caucasus region - detonated their explosive belts, the first one on a train stopping at Lubyanka, underneath the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, at 7:52 am, the second one at Park Kultury 44 minutes later.

Some 65 people were wounded in the attacks, half of them sustaining severe injuries, and were taken by helicopter to 12 hospitals around the city.

The first blast rocked the second car of a train as its doors closed, just before it was about to pull out of Lubyanka, and most of the deaths occurred inside the train. In an apparent attempt to maximise casualties, the explosion at Park Kultury occurred just as the doors had opened in the third car of the northern-bound train on the radial line, witnesses and police sources said.

Police initially estimated the TNT equivalent at between 1.5 and 3 kilograms, but FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, speaking in a special televised meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev, identified the explosive as hexogen, saying the Lubyanka blast was caused by the equivalent of 4 kilograms. 

"Explosive equivalents of 1 or 2 kg of TNT were presumably located in the belt area and were set off by two women suicide bombers - that was determined from the long black hair of the remains found on the spot. Two criminal cases have been filed on terrorism," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee at the Prosecutor General's Office, told reporters outside the Lubyanka metro.

Remains of the suicide bombers and fragments of their belts have been found, and police are working to identify them, Markin said. "The severed head of a young woman has been found at Park Kultury," Interfax quoted a source in the Investigative Committee as saying, while the remains of an older woman have been found at Lubyanka. The faces of the suicide bombers were intact, so it may be possible to identify them later, Markin told reporters.

The FSB has linked the attacks to terrorist groups in the North Caucasus, where a major special operation took place just last week and where Interior Ministry troops killed suspected terrorist leader Said Buryatsky last month.

"We will consider this the main version of events," Bortnikov said in televised remarks to Medvedev, referring to the North Caucasus origins of the attack, "since we have found the bodies of the two suicide terrorists who are connected to residential areas in the North Caucasus."

A military official said the bombings had all the hallmarks of Moscow attacks originating in Chechnya and the North Caucasus that took place over the last decade, RIA Novosti reported.
Monday's attacks may be the revenge for the killing of Said Buryatsky, Interfax quoted a special forces expert as saying.

Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged law enforcement agencies to increase security on municipal and national transport and ordered relentless pursuit of the terrorists.

"We will continue to fight terrorism without hesitation till the end," a visibly nervous Medvedev told an emergency meeting of senior ministers and officials. He said that security efforts must increase, but that this should not encroach upon civil liberties.

"I am certain that law enforcement will do everything possible to find and punish the perpetrators," Putin said in televised remarks from Krasnoyarsk, adding: "The terrorists will be destroyed."

Putin said that legislation may need to be amended to improve efforts to fight terrorism.

Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, said an FSB base should be established to target terrorism in the North Caucasus on a permanent basis. "Let's improve the work of security services in the North Caucasus," he told The Moscow News by telephone on Monday. "Instead of having people sent there for three to six months, we should have them there for three years at least."

Gudkov said current laws were sufficient and do not need to be changed. "They just need to be followed."

He said it was unlikely that the attacks were carried out as revenge for the death of Buryatsky.

"Suicide bombings take months to prepare, [so] two weeks isn't enough," he said. "Financing, logistics, transporting the bombers - that all takes time." 

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