- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

MOSCOW Officials rushed to reassure Russia's fearful capital yesterday, a day after a downtown explosion killed seven persons and reawakened memories of a 1999 bombing campaign that left hundreds dead.

President Vladimir Putin urged Russians to remain calm, saying "hysteria and disorganization [would be] the best gift for terrorists."

But worries were heightened when authorities found a bag filled with nine pounds of TNT and seven detonators in an office at Moscow's Kazansky railway station yesterday. The explosives were not wired for detonation, but police were investigating a possible link to Tuesday's bombing.

The bombing under Pushkin Square came 11 months after a series of apartment building bombings killed 300 people in several Russian cities. The attacks were widely blamed on militants from Chechnya, the breakaway republic in the southern Caucasus where rebels are fighting Russian troops.

Yesterday, investigators announced that two suspects one from Chechnya and one from neighboring Dagestan had been detained for questioning in Tuesday's bombing. But they later said the men had been cleared of involvement.

Especially anxious about a renewed terror campaign were those working in Moscow's underground passages and in outside markets, where a bomb could be left unnoticed amid the crowds and refuse. Underground passages such as the one bombed Tuesday are unavoidable in many parts of Moscow, providing the only way to cross traffic-choked streets up to 12 lanes wide.

"Naturally, I'm afraid," said Ludmila Petrovna, selling cigarettes from two shopping bags in a passageway.

"It's always hard here… . Today, the mood is very frightened," she said, glancing at other women standing along the wall selling clothes, household goods and puppies.

"I don't want to be here, but I would be without bread," said Anna Bakhmut, dusting her small display rack of shoes in the Vuikhino outdoor market.

Pushkin Square is a popular area for tourists. The neighborhood is home to theaters, spacious parks and the McDonald's restaurant that captured world attention when it opened in 1989.

On Tuesday, an underground passageway there was thronged with pedestrians when a blast ripped through it. Blood-soaked people stumbled out into the street as terrified passers-by watched. Seven persons were killed and more than 90 hurt.

A day later, people left flowers in the square to mourn the dead as city workers washed blood off the walls of the passageway, which was reopened. Hundreds of people went to hospitals to donate blood for the wounded.

Officials said 11 of the 93 wounded were in serious condition. Among the injured were at least two Americans of Russian descent. The U.S. Embassy identified them as Natalya Yelina, 35, and her son, Ilya, 13, but did not release their hometown.

Blame for the blast focused on Chechen rebels who have been fighting Russian forces for the past year, and who are also blamed for last year's apartment bombings.

But police also could not exclude the possibility of Russian criminals, who frequently bomb rivals. And a leading Chechen rebel figure, Mumadi Saidayev, denied rebel responsibility for the bombing and contended Russian authorities committed it to feed anti-Chechen anger and justify continuing the military offensive.

"It is news to us. We were not planning such actions in Moscow. Unlike the Russian military, we do not fight with women and children," he told the Associated Press.

People in Moscow who appear to be ethnic Chechens or from elsewhere in the Caucasus region worried that increased passport checks would thicken the suspicion that hangs around them. Dark-complexioned people have long complained that police harass them with document checks and hostile attitudes, especially after terrorist attacks.

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