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Russia Train Blast Kills 4; 44 Are Hurt

Authorities say the two bombs were probably set off by Chechen terrorists. One suspect is arrested at the scene.

September 04, 2003|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Two bombs exploded under a suburban commuter train packed with students on their way to school in southern Russia on Wednesday, killing at least four people and wounding 44 in what authorities said probably was a Chechen terrorist attack.

The blast was the latest in a series of explosions that have brought the war in Chechnya home to Russians. It left the area around the train tracks in the Stavropol region strewn with shredded notebooks, textbooks and body parts, witnesses said, and hospitals were flooded with casualties, at least 12 of whom were critically wounded.

"This is the first time they blew up a train like this. This is beginning to look like regular guerrilla warfare," Alexander Sholokhov, the Emergency Situations Ministry's duty officer, said in a telephone interview in the Stavropol region. "We have little doubt that this terrorist act will be traced to Chechnya."

Authorities said the train was approaching the spa town of Pyatigorsk about 7:50 a.m. when the bombs went off. The train was filled with students bound for local colleges and training institutes.

Although several cars were burning on the rails after the explosion, the heaviest damage was sustained by one car in which about 100 passengers were riding, authorities said.

A preliminary investigation revealed that two radio-controlled bombs were set off simultaneously under the train, apparently by someone hiding in bushes not far away. The bombs left two pits, each about 2 yards in diameter.

"We are aware that terrorist acts can be committed in our territory, and we have warned the population about such a possibility," said Armen Dzhvanyants, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in the region.

"But you can't prevent people from riding trains, and you can't be everywhere to protect them either."

He said one suspect was arrested at the scene. "Now we are trying to establish whether he was directly connected with the explosion.... We will find the culprits, I'm sure."

The suspect, who lost a leg and suffered numerous stomach wounds, was unable to answer questions, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor's office told Interfax news agency. The news agency also reported that a vehicle believed linked to the perpetrators had been found near the scene.

The Stavropol region adjoins the republic of Chechnya, where separatist guerrillas have been battling Russian forces in a struggle that increasingly is being waged outside Chechnya's borders.

Terrorist bombs have exploded across the country in recent months in what authorities believe is an attempt to undermine government-sponsored elections in the republic scheduled for Oct. 5.

In the most serious recent attack, a vehicle exploded Aug. 1 outside a military hospital in the North Ossetia region, killing at least 42 people inside. In Moscow, suicide bombers killed 14 concertgoers at a rock festival July 5.

Stavropol has seen other, smaller attacks. "There have been several terrorist acts in our region before. Most of them were staged by putting bombs into dustbins in busy streets and at railway stations and in cars parked in busy places," said Vasily Balditsyn, editor of Stavropolskaya Pravda newspaper. "In the end, we don't have a single dustbin in any public place anymore. But bombs explode again, this time along a railway line.

"I think this is a very loud signal that the Chechen terrorists are sending to us: 'We are here. We are not dead. We are continuing our fight.' ... The entire south of Russia is now a volatile place, and we all must be very cautious and vigilant."

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Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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