Russia in fear as suicide bombs kill 38; City-dwellers braced for campaign of terrorism by female Muslim extremists
The Daily Telegraph, 30th March 2010 15:12
by Andrew Osborn in Moscow
RUSSIA'S cities feared a fresh terrorist bombing campaign yesterday after two female suicide bombers killed 38 people in a rush-hour attack on Moscow's metro.
The double bombing, which left 64 people injured, was the deadliest terror attack inside Russia in six years.
It raised concerns that Islamist radicals were making good on repeated promises of a new offensive.
The first explosion, shortly before 8am local time, ripped through a train in the Lubyanka station just below the headquarters of Russia's FSB security service, the successor to the Soviet KGB. The second came 40 minutes later in a carriage of a train at the Park Kultury metro station.
The attacks, on an underground system which carries 6.5million commuters a day, were believed to have been triggered by two "black widows", female Chechen terrorists, who detonated belts packed with explosives and metal bolts.
CCTV footage showed they did not bother to cover their faces, while security sources suggest they may have detonated their bombs using their mobile phones.
Officials said the death toll could still rise as eight of the wounded remain in a critical condition. They said 24 were killed in the Lubyanka blast, and 12 at Park Kultury. Two more died in hospital but offi-cials did not specify which station they had come from. The explosions spread panic as the metro filled with smoke and people rushed for safety. A young man, his face pockmarked with shrapnel, stumbled out of one station, while emergency service workers removed the dead.
"It was very scary," said Valentin Popov, a 19-year-old student. "I saw a dead body. Everyone was screaming. There was a stampede at the doors and I saw one woman holding a child and pleading with people to let her through." Witnesses at the Lubyanka station said the bomber blew herself up inside a carriage as the train was about to depart.
Alexandra Antonova, an editor for the RIA-Novosti news agency, was on a train which had just pulled out of Lubyanka when the blast went off. "The loud boom stuffed up my ears. But the train didn't stop. Nobody had time to understand what had happened," she said.
Though no group claimed responsibility, Alexander Bortnikov, head of the FSB, said early indications suggested the suicide bombers were from the North Caucasus, the region that includes Chechnya.
Security sources were looking for two women "of Slav appearance" and a man who were caught on CCTV camera with the suicide bombers.
Doku Umarov, the leader of the Chechen rebel movement, issued an ominous warning in February saying terror would come to Russia's big cities.
Islamist rebels had confined their attacks to the North Caucasus in recent years but the bombing of a train between Moscowand St Petersburg last November left dozens dead.
As world leaders including President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the attack, Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, vowed vengeance.
"A crime that is terrible in its consequences and heinous in its manner has been committed," he said. "The terrorists will be destroyed." Mr Obama said America was ready to co-operate with Russia to help bring those responsible to justice.
Such attacks were common in the early part of the decade but fizzled out in 2004 after the Beslan school siege outraged world opinion.