- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

MOSCOW — A bomb ripped through a Moscow subway car during rush hour yesterday morning, killing 39 persons and wounding more than 120 in what some reports called a suicide attack. It was the deadliest terrorist blast in the capital since Russia began its second war against Muslim separatists in Chechnya.

President Vladimir Putin blamed the explosion on Chechen rebels and said it was intended to create chaos before next month’s presidential election.

“Russia doesn’t conduct negotiations with terrorists — it destroys them,” Mr. Putin said.

Moscow has been on alert since a series of suicide bombings that officials have blamed on Chechen rebels. The latest was in December, when a woman blew herself up outside a hotel across from Moscow’s Red Square, killing at least five bystanders.

Yesterday’s blast struck the second car of a train after it pulled away from the Avtozavodskaya station, heading northwest toward the Paveletskaya station on the Moscow metro’s busy circle line.

After the explosion, the train rolled several hundred more feet before coming to a stop, police spokesman Kirill Mazurin said in a TV interview.

The blast was equivalent to 11 pounds of TNT, Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev said.

The Interfax news agency quoted unidentified police sources as saying the attack was carried out by a female bomber. The agency reported authorities have a videotape of the suspected attacker and her accomplice standing on a platform before boarding the train.

But Mr. Shantsev said investigators had not found shrapnel, which usually fills suicide bombers’ explosives. He said that the bomb had likely been in a suitcase or backpack on the floor of the subway car, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Interfax later quoted a police source as saying a suicide bomber was only “one of the most probable versions” and that there was no information on whether it was a man or a woman.

Police issued a composite sketch of a man suspected of involvement in the bombing.

Lawmaker Valery Draganov, who represents the Avtozavodskaya district, told Echo of Moscow radio that body parts were scattered along the tracks. Inside the severely damaged train, bodies covered in soot were found side-by-side still in their seats.

The line where the explosion occurred is one of Moscow’s deepest, and the injured were brought up on stretchers on the long escalators to ambulances crowded outside the Avtozavodskaya station, southeast of downtown Moscow.

Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said at least 39 persons were killed and 122 were hospitalized, including one child.

More than 700 people were evacuated from the two metro stations closest to the blast, Itar-Tass reported.

Most Muscovites are dependent on mass transit, and trains are usually packed during rush hour. The subway is the world’s busiest in terms of passenger traffic, carrying as many as 8.5 million people a day.

“I heard a loud sound like a large firecracker and smoke filled the car,” said Ilya Blokhin, 31, a doctor who was riding several cars away from the blast. “What are our country and government and police going to do when they blow up crowded subway cars?”

An unidentified woman, blood covering her face, told NTV television that passengers were unable to open the train doors for a time after the explosion. After finally prying one open, they walked more than a mile out of the tunnel, she said.

“It’s scary to live here,” said Galina Abramova, a passenger on a train that was coming in the opposite direction when the explosion occurred.

President Bush telephoned Mr. Putin to express his condolences and U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said the United States was ready to offer help. Condemnations also came in from European capitals and former Soviet republics.

Mr. Putin appealed to the international community to boost efforts to fight terrorism, which he called “this plague of the 21st century.”

He said the explosion was linked with the March 14 election, which he is expected to win easily, and was intended to put “pressure on the present head of state.”

Mr. Putin blamed Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.

“We know for sure that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terror,” he said.

The rebel leader, through a spokesman, denied any involvement. The spokesman, Akhmed Zakayev, told the Associated Press that “the Chechen government condemns terrorism in every form and manner,” but he criticized Kremlin policy for creating the conditions that prompt such acts.

Russia has been fighting an insurgency in Chechnya for most of the past decade. One rebel leader, Shamil Basayev, is said to have created a special battalion of female bombers known as black widows.

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