MOSCOW — The chief of Russia's secret police announced the arrest of a suspect Monday following a weekend terrorist bombing in the southern city of Kaspiysk, and President Boris N. Yeltsin declared a day of national mourning today as the death toll climbed to 56.
Investigators have disclosed little about the deadly blast except their suspicions that the bombing was an action by organized criminals aimed at officers of the Russian Border Guard Service who live with their families in the nine-story apartment building devastated by Saturday morning's explosion.
The tragedy in the republic of Dagestan has spotlighted both a recent surge in violence by mobsters and Yeltsin's prolonged absence following heart surgery that has repeatedly been touted as successful.
The 65-year-old Russian leader has not been seen or heard by his countrymen in the two weeks since he underwent a quintuple bypass operation.
Like dozens of other edicts and addresses, Yeltsin's proclamation Monday of a day of mourning came in written form through his administrative staff.
Rescue workers were still combing through the rubble of the shattered building after dark Monday, as several residents were still unaccounted for nearly three days after the explosion.
By 6 p.m. Monday, 56 bodies--18 of them children's--had been recovered from the pile of concrete slabs that had once been apartments, the Dagestani government said in a statement. Thirty-nine survivors had so far been freed from the rubble, and at least five other residents were missing and feared dead.
Federal Security Service chief Nikolai D. Kovalev met with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin to discuss the bombing and informed him that one suspect had been arrested and two others were being sought for interrogation, Viktor Konnov, Chernomyrdin's press secretary, told reporters after their meeting here.
Alexander Zhdanovich, a spokesman for the security service, told Russian journalists that the man detained had aroused suspicion on the eve of the explosion, but he gave no other details.
The Interfax news agency reported that the detained suspect was a foreign intelligence operative from a country outside the former Soviet Union.
The Caspian Sea area is rife with smugglers trading in contraband weapons, drugs and caviar, and speculation has focused on those mob-controlled activities as the motivation for the bombing.
Russia and its Caspian neighbors last week agreed to ban sturgeon harvesting in the sea in 1997 to protect the caviar-producing fish from voracious black-market traders.
The World Wildlife Fund warned in a report issued last week that Russia's sturgeon species are dwindling from over-harvesting and claimed that 90% of the caviar brought to the world market from the major source--the Caspian Sea--is controlled by smuggling rings.