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Female suicide bombers kill 16 in Moscow
( 2003-07-06 08:20) (Agencies)

Two women strapped with explosives blew themselves up at a crowded outdoor rock festival Saturday, killing at least 16 people, officials and media said. The attack revived fears that rebels are intent on bringing the Chechen war to the Russian capital.

A Russian policeman covers a body after an explosion at rock concert at Tushino airfield, outside Moscow on July 5, 2003. [Reuters]
The first blast went off at one of the entrances to the festival at the Tushino airfield in suburban Moscow as the Russian band Crematorium played for an estimated 40,000 people. Another went off about 10 minutes later as spectators exited through another gate.

Moscow city police spokesman Valery Gribakin said 14 people were killed, not counting the two female bombers, who also died. He said about 60 people were wounded. NTV television and the Interfax news agency reported that two more blast victims died later in hospitals, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said suspicions pointed to Chechen rebels. News reports said a passport found at the bombing site identified a Chechen woman.
The attack came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order setting presidential elections in Chechnya for Oct. 5.

The elections are the latest step in Putin's strategy of trying to bring a political resolution in the breakaway Caucasus republic. But rebel attacks have undercut Kremlin efforts to portray the situation in the war-shattered region as stabilizing.
One bomber has been identified, First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said without elaborating.

Gribakin said 13 sets of identification papers - including passports, train tickets and student identifications - were found at the blast sites and most were matched up with those killed.

The White House strongly condemned the attack and offered condolences from President Bush to the victims and their families.
"No cause justifies terrorism, and as long as innocents are threatened by terror, the fight against this evil will continue," said a statement issued by Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer. "The civilized nations of the world will prevail."

Guards at the festival entrances were suspicious of the women bombers and prevented them from entering the grounds, Nurgaliyev said.

"When they approached the entrance, their agitation was visible. They tried to get in too fast and were turned away," he said.

The first bomber then triggered an explosives-packed belt, although it did not completely detonate. Police then directed people trying to go through the nearby exit to leave through another gate - and there the second bomb was detonated, said Rustam Abdulganiyev, a 17-year-old who had been inside the airfield.

Most of the casualties were believed to be caused by the second blast, officials said. Gribakin denied earlier reports of a third blast.

The one-day rock festival called "Krylya," or "Wings," is a popular summer event for Moscow's youth who packed the airfield to listen to several Russian rock bands. The Saturday afternoon weather, cool and partly sunny, helped attract a large crowd.

Anxious relatives who heard about the explosions on Russian radio and television crowded the entrances but were barred from entering the airfield.

Many frightened parents tried to call their children's cell phones, but service was not working in the Tushino area.

Helicopters scoured the skies over the field, and ambulances and police trucks streamed in. Police discovered another bomb near a festival entrance and defused it, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. No other details were immediately available.

Many fans were oblivious to the blasts. The performers were informed, but organizers decided not to tell the crowd or cut the festival short for fear of creating panic in the audience.

"There's no reason to spoil the party and there's no need to say anything that's unconfirmed," Sergei Galanin, one of the festival's announcers, told reporters.

Aslambek Maigov, the envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, denied that Maskhadov was connected to the bombings. But the Chechen rebels are deeply factionalized and only a small portion are believed to follow Maskhadov's direction.

Chechen rebels have shown an increased penchant for targeting civilians over the past year with suicide-bomb attacks. Fears of terrorism have been high in the Russian capital since the October seizure of a Moscow theater by scores of Chechen militants, including women strapped with explosives and detonators.

In June, a female bomber blew up a bus carrying workers from a Russian air base near Chechnya, killing herself and at least 14 other people.

In May, an explosives-laden woman blew herself up in the middle of a crowd of Muslim pilgrims, killing at least 15, in an apparent attempt to kill the Kremlin-backed acting president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov. Two days earlier, three suicide attackers detonated a truck loaded with explosives outside a government compound, killing at least 59 people.

During the Moscow theater standoff in October, Chechen militants threatened to blow themselves up and held 800 people hostage for days. Russian special forces ended the standoff by pumping narcotic gas into the theater and then storming in. At least 129 hostages died, almost all from the effects of the gas.

Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned after rebel raids on a neighboring region and a series of bombings in Russian cities. Russian troops fought a 1994-1996 war with Chechen separatists that ended in a Russian retreat and de facto independence for the region.

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