- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

MOSCOW Suicide bombers drove two trucks packed with explosives through cordons protecting the headquarters of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government yesterday and then detonated them, killing at least 46 persons and wounding 70 more, the Russian government said.
The blasts, which leveled one wing of the building in the Chechen capital, Grozny, dealt a severe blow to the efforts by President Vladimir Putin's government to portray the republic as returning to normal after more than three years of war between separatist rebels and a massive Russian military contingent.
Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Tsakayev told the Interfax news agency the bombs were in a delivery truck and a sport utility vehicle used by the Russian military.
Viktor Shkareda, deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia, said 46 persons were confirmed dead in the blast and 70 wounded. Rescuers were finding fragments of other bodies as they searched through the heaps of broken concrete and shattered glass, officials said.
The explosions hit around 2:30 p.m., just after lunch break ended, and the building was full of employees and visitors. NTV television said as many as 200 people normally worked in the building.
The larger truck exploded next to the building, while the smaller SUV blew up in an adjacent parking lot used by government cars, Itar-Tass said.
The explosions had the force of one ton of TNT and left a 20-foot-wide crater, Chechen prosecutor Valery Kravchenko said.
NTV showed stunned and bleeding people stumbling out of the rubble of the administration building, one of the few in the war-shattered Chechen capital to have been renovated completely. Other people were dragged out by their hands and feet, while bloodied soldiers tried to establish order.
The administration headquarters, where the civilian government is based, was damaged severely. NTV showed windows blown out, and a sea of building wreckage and burned-out cars in the adjacent square.
The attack came as the government has tried to reinforce its claim that Chechnya is calming by pressuring refugees to go home and shepherding foreign journalists to Grozny on carefully controlled tours to examine reconstruction projects.
Although Russian troops have had nominal control of Grozny since early 2000, the city remains largely in ruins from intense Russian air and artillery attacks. Rebels infiltrate the city and attack Russian forces there with daily hit-and-run strikes, typically using remote-controlled explosives.
It was the biggest suspected Chechen rebel attack since militants seized a Moscow theater in October, taking about 800 people hostage. All 41 attackers were killed, as were 129 hostages, all but two of whom succumbed to a knockout gas used by Russian authorities to incapacitate the assailants.
The largest recent attack in Grozny occurred in October, when rebels blew up a police precinct house, killing at least 25 persons. Militants also detonated a passenger bus in September, killing 19, mostly civilians.
Rebels also have shot down several military helicopters with shoulder-fired missiles near the main Russian base on the outskirts of Grozny. On Wednesday, gunmen shot and killed the head of a pro-Kremlin party in the city.
The head of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, has offices in the Grozny headquarters, but was in Moscow at the time of yesterday's blast. Although Mr. Kadyrov has become increasingly critical of the Russian military campaign in Chechnya, he is regarded as a turncoat by rebels, as are other Chechens who work with Russian authorities.
Mr. Kadyrov told Interfax from Moscow that one of the trucks broke through three guard-post cordons surrounding the government headquarters.
"How could the terrorists have managed to break through three fences around the government building? The guards' actions must be investigated," he was quoted as saying.
Mr. Kadyrov said one explosion occurred inside the building, and the interior of the building was "practically destroyed." The nearby Chechen Finance Ministry also was damaged badly, Mr. Kravchenko said.
He said it was useless to beef up security including normal traffic checks after the attack.
"How many times have we conducted these traffic checks, and to what aim? Just as before, the terrorists act as if they were masters of Grozny," he said.
Aslan Magomadov, an envoy of President Vladimir Putin, said there would be "serious questions" for the Ministry of Justice, Federal Guards Service and the Federal Security Service, Interfax reported.
In Paris, meanwhile, the French Interior Ministry said a cell of suspected Islamic militants arrested this week were planning attacks against Russian interests in Chechnya and France, including the Russian Embassy in Paris.
Eight suspects were arrested in raids in Paris suburbs this week as French authorities began an investigation into networks that filter extremists into Chechnya.

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