- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

GROZNY, Russia — A bomb exploded at a stadium in the Chechen capital during a Victory Day ceremony yesterday, killing provincial President Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s point man in its efforts to control separatist violence in the war-wracked region.

No group took responsibility for the explosion, which killed as many as 24 people, but suspicion inevitably fell on separatist rebels, who had tried to assassinate Mr. Kadyrov several times.

Police and soldiers began an extensive search after the blast and detained at least five persons, news reports said.

The attack harshly underlined the difficulties that Russia faces in restoring order in the southern region despite a massive troop presence. It was expected to set off a new round of killing between Mr. Kadyrov’s camp and his enemies.

The stadium’s VIP section collapsed in the explosion, leaving a jagged hole and sending up a plume of smoke. Panicked people, including many elderly dressed in their Sunday best, clambered over the bleachers as gunshots split the air.

Footage on Russia’s NTV television showed men in uniform dragging away the body of a blood-covered man resembling Mr. Kadyrov.

The explosive device was thought to have been a land mine, said Sergei Kozhemyaka, a spokesman for the southern Russian branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry. NTV television quoted an investigator as saying that the bomb was made from a 152 mm artillery shell and was detonated with a wire or timer.

The bomb was planted under the concrete floor of the VIP podium where Mr. Kadyrov and other dignitaries were watching ceremonies marking the 59th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II.

Another land mine was found nearby.

Investigators were trying to identify people who worked on a three-month renovation of the stadium, which was completed just recently, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Official estimates of the death toll varied.

The Grozny emergency medical center said 24 persons were killed and 46 were wounded. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the southern Russian district, Vladimir Yakovlev, said six persons died and 53 were wounded, the Interfax news agency reported.

The differing estimates could not be explained.

Russian authorities have blamed Chechen rebels for many attacks since 2002, including a Feb. 6 suicide bombing on a Moscow subway that killed more than 40 people and wounded dozens.

Previous major attacks in Chechnya have been followed by massive operations to find the perpetrators, with troops and security forces sealing off whole neighborhoods and towns, conducting house-to-house searches and detaining scores of people.

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