- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

YESSENTUKI, Russia — A shrapnel-filled bomb believed to have been strapped to a suicide attacker ripped apart a commuter train yesterday near Chechnya, killing 42 persons in what Russia’s president called an attempt to disrupt this weekend’s parliamentary elections.

The blast near this city in southern Russia was the latest in a series of suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed about 250 people in and around the rebellious region of Chechnya and in Moscow in the past year.

The remains of the suspected bomber were found with grenades still attached to his legs, Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev said. Three women also were involved in the attack — two jumped from the train just before the blast, and one was gravely injured and unlikely to survive, he said.

Authorities suspect other accomplices may have been watching from cars near the site of the blast, which threw passengers from the train and sent its second car crashing onto its side, trapping victims beneath the buckled wreckage.

The explosion tore through the train around 8 a.m., a rush-hour attack that seemed calculated to kill and injure as many people as possible. The train was about 500 yards from the station at Yessentuki, 750 miles south of Moscow, and officials said many passengers were students from local schools and universities.

Rescue workers pulled bodies from the twisted debris hours after the explosion. Lt. Col. Andrei Somishechenko of the Emergency Situations Ministry said 42 persons were killed, and nearly 200 injured.

The Federal Security Service said that unexploded grenades and remnants of a bag believed to have held the bomb also were found. The bomb was filled with shrapnel, prosecutors told the Russian news media.

Southern Russia’s chief prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, said the explosives were similar to those found in belts worn by suicide bombers in some earlier attacks, most of which were blamed on Chechen rebels.

“We will find those who did it,” said Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, calling the attackers “beasts” as his voice trembled in televised comments. “The earth will burn under their feet.”

President Vladimir Putin called the attack “an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country on the eve of parliamentary elections” tomorrow.

Mr. Putin equated the blast with the “international terrorism” that he said “has challenged many countries and continues to represent a serious threat for our country.”

“It is a ruthless, serious, treacherous enemy,” he said. Without identifying those he believed responsible, he said he was “sure they won’t succeed.”

Representatives of Aslan Maskhadov, a rebel leader and former Chechen president who considers himself the rightful leader of Chechnya, denied responsibility for the explosion in a statement distributed to the news media.

“We … condemn any acts of violence that directly or indirectly target the civilian population anywhere in the world,” the statement said.

The attack was the second on a railway line in the tense region that surrounds Chechnya.

A suicide truck-bomb attack last December destroyed the headquarters of Chechnya’s Moscow-backed government and killed 72 persons, and another killed 60 at a government compound in the region in May. Later that month, a woman blew herself up at a religious ceremony, killing at least 18 persons.

In June, a female suicide attacker detonated a bomb near a bus carrying soldiers and civilians to a military airfield in Mozdok, a major staging point for Russian troops in Chechnya, killing at least 16 persons. A truck bomb in August, also in Mozdok, killed 50 persons at a military hospital.

In Moscow, a double suicide bombing at a rock concert in July killed the female attackers and 15 other persons.

Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned after a series of deadly bombings that Moscow blamed on the militants. Russian troops had withdrawn from Chechnya in 1996 after a 20-month war that ended in de facto independence for the devastated region.

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