- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

MOSCOW — Two women strapped with explosives blew themselves up yesterday at the gates of a Moscow rock festival crowded with tens of thousands of fans, killing at least 14 persons and reviving fears that separatist rebels are bringing the Chechen war to the Russian capital.

The bombers, believed to be Chechen, were also killed. After the blasts, bodies lay splayed on the pavement, surrounded by pools of blood. Emergency response officers covered them with black plastic garbage bags.

Moscow city police spokesman Valery Gribakin said the explosions killed 14 persons — in addition to the two bombers — and wounded about 60. Russia’s Channel One television reported that a 15th victim died in a hospital, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said suspicions pointed to Chechen rebels. News reports said a passport found at the bombing site identified a Chechen woman.



First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said 13 sets of identification papers — including passports, train tickets and student identifications — were found at the blast sites and that most were matched with the dead.

The attack came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order setting presidential elections in Chechnya for Oct. 5. The elections are the latest step in Mr. Putin’s strategy of trying to bring a political resolution in the breakaway Caucasus republic even as fighting continues.

But rebel attacks have undercut Kremlin efforts to portray the situation in the war-shattered region as stabilizing.

Aslambek Maigov, the envoy of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, denied that Mr. Maskhadov was connected to the bombings. But the Chechen rebels are deeply factionalized, and only a small portion are believed to follow Mr. Maskhadov’s direction.

Chechen rebels have shown an increased penchant for targeting civilians with suicide-bomb attacks during the past year. Fears of terrorism have been high in the Russian capital since the seizure in October of a Moscow theater by scores of Chechen militants, including women strapped with explosives and detonators.

The explosions occurred 10 minutes apart outside the Tushino airfield in suburban Moscow, where a crowd of as many as 40,000 was listening to a host of Russian rock bands at the one-day festival called “Krylya,” or “Wings.”

The rock festival is a popular summer event for Moscow’s youth. The afternoon weather, cool and partly sunny, was ideal for attracting a large crowd.

Guards at the festival entrances were suspicious of the female bombers and prevented them from entering the grounds, Mr. Nurgaliyev said.

“When they approached the entrance, their agitation was visible. They tried to get in too fast and were turned away,” he said.

The first bomber then triggered an explosives-packed belt, although it did not completely detonate. Police then directed people trying to go through the nearby exit to leave through another gate, and there the second bomb was detonated, said Rustam Abdulganiyev, 17, who had been inside the airfield.

Most of the casualties are believed to have been caused by the second blast, officials said.

Anxious relatives who heard reports about the explosions on Russian radio and television crowded the entrances but were barred from entering the airfield.

Many frightened parents tried to call their children’s cell phones, but service was not working in the Tushino area.

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