- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

MOSCOW — Russian investigators found explosives residue on the wreckage of the second of two airliners that crashed minutes apart, a security spokesman said yesterday, adding to evidence that terrorists breached security at one of the country’s most up-to-date airports.

The announcement came as Chechens prepared to vote today on a successor to the late President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated May 9 in a bomb attack by Muslim separatists.

Russian officials had warned of more attacks ahead of the election, and yesterday’s finding fingered terrorism as the cause of the near simultaneous crashes of both planes on Tuesday.

The high explosive hexogen was found on the Tu-134 airliner that went down south of Moscow, said Sergei Ignatchenko, spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency.

Traces of the same explosive were found on the Tu-154 jetliner that crashed near Rostov in southwestern Russia, officials said Friday.

The two planes took off from the same terminal at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport and went off radar screens within minutes of each other hundreds of miles apart on different routes. All 90 persons on board died.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin announced that police would now help screen passengers and bags — currently the responsibility of the airports.

Additionally, the ministry will require airlines to print full passport details from passengers on tickets, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Russian citizens have separate passports for internal and foreign travel.

Mr. Ignatchenko said the FSB — a successor to the Soviet-era KGB — had been directed by President Vladimir Putin to study other countries’ practices to improve air security.

“International experience in fighting terrorism on air transport is being studied, including proposals to use the Israeli system … which today is recognized as the most effective in the world,” Mr. Ignatchenko said.

Hexogen was used in a series of apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people in Russia and were blamed on separatist rebels from Russia’s Chechnya region.

Chechen voters are to chose a new president for the region to replace Moscow-backed Akhmad Kadyrov, killed in a bomb attack May 9.

The Russian government has portrayed the election — in which a Kremlin-supported police official is expected to win — as a sign that peace is returning to a region ravaged by a decade of fighting between Russian troops and insurgents.

Russian soldiers occupying Chechnya are still regularly killed or wounded by small-scale attacks and bombings.

Speculation that rebels were behind an attack on the planes grew with news that authorities were looking into the backgrounds of two female passengers who boarded under Chechen names, one on each plane.

Several suicide bombings in recent years have been blamed on Chechen women who lost husbands or brothers in the war and chaos that have plagued the southern republic for most of the past decade.

A Web site statement, posted Friday and signed the “Islambouli Brigades of al Qaeda,” claimed responsibility for the crashes, warning that they were in support of the Chechen rebels and marked just the first in a series of planned operations. The veracity of the claim could not be confirmed.

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