- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

MOSCOW — A suicide bomber blew herself up outside the National Hotel across from Moscow’s Red Square yesterday, killing five bystanders, wounding at least 12 and sparking fears of a new wave of terror attacks in the heart of the Russian capital.

Politicians said the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, might have been the intended target, not the hotel. The attack came shortly before President Vladimir Putin addressed a meeting nearby at the Kremlin, and two days after Russian parliamentary elections.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that there was at least one and perhaps two female bombers and that they appeared to be lost before the blast, asking directions to the State Duma.

“Evidently, the bomb went off by accident,” Mr. Luzhkov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “The National Hotel was not the place where the suicide bombers had planned to stage the explosion.”

The National Hotel sits cater-cornered from a gate leading into Red Square and the Kremlin. The State Duma is located nearby, across the capital’s most elegant shopping street.

No group claimed responsibility, but past attacks have been blamed on rebels from the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Forty-four persons were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a train in southern Russia last week.

The blast occurred near a parked Mercedes sedan. Bodies and body parts were strewn. Nearby was a black briefcase that authorities thought might contain more explosives, Interfax said.

Dozens of police cordoned off the site with red-and-white tape and pushed away reporters and other bystanders. The entrance to the normally crowded Okhotny Ryad metro station, around the corner from the blast, was closed.

A preliminary investigation indicated the blast occurred outside a car and that the bomb contained about 2 pounds of dynamite, said Yevgeny Gildeyev, a Moscow police spokesman.

Police were searching for a woman suspected of involvement in the attack, Mr. Gildeyev said. He said other explosives found near the hotel were destroyed. The Itar-Tass news agency reported that an undetonated explosive also was found on the bomber’s body.

Five persons were killed and 12 hospitalized, five of them in grave condition, said Lyubov Zhomova, the spokeswoman for the Moscow medical directorate.

Kirill Mizulin, another police spokesman, said a Chinese national was among the injured. Itar-Tass reported that medical workers on the site said most of the victims appeared to be passers-by.

In the Kremlin, Mr. Putin later referred to terror threats in his address to regional leaders commemorating the 10th anniversary of the nation’s constitution, which will be celebrated Friday.

“[The constitution] is a foundation for the development of a free-market economy, democracy and the development of the nation as a whole, and the preservation of its territorial integrity. The actions of criminals, terrorists, which we have to confront even today, are aimed against all that,” Mr. Putin said.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in Russia in bombings and other attacks blamed on Chechens over the past year.

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