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36 killed in train blast near Chechnya
( 2003-12-05 23:39) (Agencies)

A suicide attacker set off an explosion that tore through a commuter train Friday near the separatist region of Chechnya, killing 36 people and wounding scores of others in a bombing that President Vladimir Putin said was intended to disrupt this weekend's parliamentary elections.


A still from Russian NTV television channel shows emergency workers at an exploded carriage of a commuter train just outside Yessentuki station in Russia's southern fringe, December 5, 2003. [Reuters]
Authorities said a man triggered the bomb and three other attackers all women also were involved. At least two of the women may have jumped from the train before the blast.

The rebel Chechen government denied it was responsible for the blast, the second fatal attack on the rail line near the breakaway republic since September.

The 8 a.m. explosion ripped open the side of train as it approached a station near Yessentuki, about 750 miles south of Moscow, hurling passengers to the ground. Others were trapped under a mound of twisted, burning wreckage for hours.

At least 148 wounded were hospitalized, and another 29 suffered only slight injuries, said Maj. Gen. Nikolai Lityuk of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Authorities found undetonated grenades still strapped to the legs of a male suicide attacker, the Interfax news agency quoted Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, as saying. Experts gingerly entered the wreckage to remove the explosives and later detonated them, Russian television reported.

Patrushev said two women jumped from the train just before the explosion, Interfax reported. The male suicide bomber has not been identified. Patrushev did not say what happened to the third alleged female attacker.

They also found the remnants of a bag believed to have carried the bomb, the security agency said. The device was estimated to have the force of 22 pounds of TNT, said Vladimir Rudyak, a spokesman for the local prosecutor's office, and blew one of the train cars onto its side.

It was not known if the death toll of 36 included the male attacker.

Putin called the attack "an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country on the eve of parliamentary elections" on Sunday.

"The international terrorism that has challenged many countries continues to represent a serious threat for our country," Putin said. "It is a ruthless, serious, treacherous enemy. Innocent people suffer from their activity."

Although Putin didn't identify who he believed was responsible, he was "sure they won't succeed." He also promised to help all those affected by the attack.

The rebel Chechen government led by Aslan Maskhadov issued a statement denying its involvement.

"We repeat that the Chechen government is guided by the principles of international humanitarian law," the statement said. "We therefore condemn any acts of violence that directly or indirectly target the civilian population anywhere in the world."

The rush-hour attack seemed calculated to kill and injure a large number of people, and local health officials said the train was carrying a large number of students from schools and universities.

Hours after the blast, firefighters continued to pull dead from beneath the carriage.

"We will find those who did it, " Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "The earth will be burning under their feet."

Six people were killed in two blasts on the same train line in September. No group claimed responsibility for those attacks.

A series of suicide bombings and other attacks have rocked the region in and around Chechnya and Moscow this year.

In June, a female suicide attacker detonated a bomb near a bus carrying soldiers and civilians to work at a military airfield near Mozdok, the headquarters for Russian troops in the Caucasus region, killing at least 16 people. A month earlier, a suicide truck-bombing in Chechnya killed 72 people and a woman blew herself up at a religious ceremony, killing at least 18 people.

A double suicide bombing at a rock concert in Moscow on July 5 killed the female attackers and 15 other people. Soon after that, bomb experts said a woman from Chechnya left an explosive on a Moscow street that killed a bomb disposal expert.

In October 2002, Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater for nearly three days before Russian authorities ended the siege by spraying a powerful gas in the building. More than 120 of the 800 hostages were killed.

Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned following rebel raids on a neighboring Russian region. Earlier, they fought an unsuccessful 1994-96 war against separatists that ended in de facto independence for the region.

 
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