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Moscow car bomb kills five
( 2003-12-09 17:05) (Agencies)

A car exploded near Moscow's Red Square on Tuesday, killing at least five people, Moscow police said.

It was not clear whether the blast was due to a terrorist act or a business dispute that had turned violent, police said.

The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that the explosion had been caused by a female suicide bomber, and that an undetonated explosive had been found on the bomber's body.

However, Yevgeny Gildeyev, a police spokesman, said that many businesses had offices in the hotel and that the explosion might have been linked with them. Contract murders occur frequently in Russia's large cities.

The Interfax news agency said law enforcement sources thought that the blast was a terrorist act and was caused by a car bomb. It said a headless female body was lying near the site of the blast, near a black brief case that authorities thought might contain more explosives.

Investigators from the police and the Federal Security Service were on the site, trying to determine whether the blast occurred inside and outside the car, said Natalia Alisiyenko of the Moscow police.

Five people were killed, three were injured, and seven were given first aid on the spot and released, she said.

The blast occurred on the capital's main shopping street, Tverskaya, near the National Hotel, which sits on a corner diagonally across from a gate leading into Red Square and the Kremlin.

Ten people were treated on the spot and released, ITAR-Tass said.

Two witnesses told Russian state television that they had their backs to the blast and heard a huge bang shortly before 11 a.m. (0800 GMT).

"We felt a kind of whoosh, heard a bang, and saw smoke," said one, who was not identified.

Windows on the first and second floors of the swank hotel were shattered, she said. Russian state television showed footage of three victims lying on the sidewalk, including one man in a blue coat near a pile of shattered glass. In the background could be heard the shriek of car alarms.

Russians have been jittery about terrorist acts since a series of explosions in Moscow and southern Russia blamed on Chechen rebels.

Forty-four people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a train in southern Russia last week.

Altogether, close to 300 people have been killed in Russia in bombings and other attacks blamed on Chechens over the past year.

The deadly bombings of the past year -- and a Chechen rebel hostage-taking raid on a Moscow theater in October 2002 -- have exposed the inability of Russian authorities to protect against suicide attacks.

A suicide truck-bomb attack last December destroyed the headquarters of Chechnya's Moscow-backed government and killed 72 people, and another killed 60 at a government compound in the region in May. Later that month, a woman blew herself up at a religious ceremony, killing at least 18 people.

In June, a female suicide attacker detonated a bomb near a bus carrying soldiers and civilians to a military airfield in Mozdok, a major staging point for Russian troops in Chechnya, killing at least 16 people, and the 50 killed in a truck-bomb attack on a military hospital in Mozdok in August included soldiers wounded in Chechnya.

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