- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

GROZNY, Russia The suicide bombers who set off twin blasts that leveled Chechnya's government headquarters were allowed through several security cordons around the building because they were disguised as Russian servicemen, officials said yesterday as the death toll rose to 57.
The pair of trucks drove into the heavily guarded compound and exploded just after lunch Friday. The blasts, which had a combined force equivalent to a half-ton of TNT, wrecked the main building, blowing away doors, windows and interior walls, leaving behind a concrete shell. The front half of a second building collapsed.
Rescuers combed through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors, but nobody was pulled out alive yesterday. At least 57 persons were confirmed dead and 121 wounded, said Yuri Kolodkin, a duty officer at the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia. He said 61 persons remained hospitalized and that more than half of them were in serious condition.
The bombings, at one of the most heavily guarded spots in Chechnya, severely damaged Russian President Vladimir Putin's assertions that peace is returning to the region, where Russian forces have battled separatists for five of the past eight years.
The two trucks had army-registered license plates, said Mikhail Syomochkin of Chechnya's Emergency Situations Department. When the trucks got close to the government headquarters, they sped up and burst through the gates. A soldier opened fire before the vehicles exploded, he said.
Chechnya's deputy interior minister, Akhmed Dakayev, said there were three suicide bombers in the two trucks. The men wore Russian military uniforms and presented military IDs, the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies quoted Mr. Dakayev as saying.
Viktor Kazantsev, Mr. Putin's envoy in the southern federal district that includes Chechnya, said the servicemen guarding the compound had been negligent.
"The agency in charge of the security of the government compound functioned exceptionally poorly," Interfax quoted him as saying in Grozny, the Chechen capital. "Many people, from rank-and-file soldiers to high-ranking individuals, were careless."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the bombers were part of an international terrorist army.
"The monstrous crime in Grozny shows convincingly that the activities of terrorists in Chechnya are a continuation of the global terrorist challenge," the ministry said in a statement. "The international criminals use methods that have been well-rehearsed in other parts of the world."
High-ranking Chechen officials were among Friday's casualties, but none of the top leadership was in the buildings at the time of the blasts.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Russian officials variously blamed Chechnya's rebel President Aslan Maskhadov and warlord Shamil Basayev. A Maskhadov spokesman denied Friday that the rebel government had been involved.

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