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Russians hunt for Moscow metro bombers
Updated: 2004-02-08 11:38

Russian security forces launched a massive manhunt on Saturday for the perpetrators of a bomb attack on the Moscow metro that killed at least 39 people. The city's mayor warned the final death toll could rise.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Chechen separatists for the bombing that tore through the second carriage of a packed rush-hour train on Friday.

He has linked it to the March 14 presidential election in which he is strong favorite.

The separatists denied responsibility for the blast.

Police threw up a security cordon around Moscow and stepped up spot identity checks on the streets. They also published a composite picture of a man they said was a suspect and briefly detained two men who bore a resemblance to the portrait.

Hundreds of Muscovites queued up to donate blood for the injured.

Yevgeny Savenkov said after giving blood at a clinic: "I have got a little child, a wife and many brothers. When I imagine that this could happen to them, I felt unwell. That's why I decided to come here."

Dozens of passers-by gathered on Saturday to lay flowers at the entrances of the two stations linked by the tunnel where the blast took place. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov ordered a day of mourning in the capital on Monday when the dead will be buried.

Police said 105 people were still in hospital, many suffering carbon monoxide poisoning as well as severe burns and broken bones.

"Unfortunately the number of victims of the terrorist attack may still rise, since 14 people in city hospitals were critically injured in the attack and a further 24 were seriously hurt," Luzhkov told reporters.

Moscow's deputy prosecutor Vladimir Yudin said 20 of the dead had been identified, but added that he thought the number known to have died so far was unlikely to rise significantly.

"Judging by the evidence we possess, including (body) fragments of people who were killed, we have no reason to believe that the number of those killed is significantly more than (39)," he told Interfax news agency.

Some newspapers published gruesome images of the carnage caused by the blast.

Moscow daily Kommersant carried a front page picture of blood-spattered bodies lying in the twisted remains of the carriage where the bomb went off. Other images showed victims who had been hurled out of the carriage by the blast lying alongside the line.

Some suggested the blast was caused by a package left on board. Yudin said the most likely scenario was a suicide bombing -- like a series of other attacks which have struck the capital in recent months.

Putin told reporters there was no doubt fugitive Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov had masterminded the attack.

"We do not need any indirect confirmation. We know for certain that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terrorism," he said.

"I do not rule out that this could be used both in debates taking place in the Russian presidential election and as a lever to put pressure on the current head of state."

A spokesman for the fugitive Chechen leader said neither Maskhadov nor his separatist government were "connected to this bloody provocation and (they) unequivocally condemn it."

Putin, his poll ratings over 70 per cent, has never been hurt by attacks like Friday's blast and used the fight against separatists to his advantage in first winning election in 2000.

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