20 killed in blasts blamed on rebel Chechens

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The Independent Online

More than 20 people were killed and over 100 injured yesterday when three bombs detonated almost simultaneously in Russian spa towns near the war-torn region of Chechnya, raising fears that the 18-month- old conflict could be spreading.

More than 20 people were killed and over 100 injured yesterday when three bombs detonated almost simultaneously in Russian spa towns near the war-torn region of Chechnya, raising fears that the 18-month- old conflict could be spreading.

Russian TV showed scenes of carnage in a market place in Mineralnye Vody after a car bomb exploded at the height of the Saturday morning shopping rush, killing 19 and seriously wounding 85.

The second blast struck minutes later just outside a police station in nearby Yessentuki, a town famous for its curative mineral waters, leaving 13 people injured, two seriously.

Two policemen were killed in the third explosion in the neighbouring republic of Karacheyevo-Cherkessia.

All three blasts occurred within 100 miles of the Chechen border. Russian officials were quick to blame Chechen rebels for the bombs, although the separatist republic's president-in-hiding, Aslan Maskhadov, denied any involvement.

"The gunmen are always talking about the need to commit acts of terror to keep the Russian population in fear, and this fact alone is reason to consider the [Chechen] separatists as the likely perpetrators of today's bombings," Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhemsky told Russian TV.

The Kremlin has blamed Chechens for a still-unsolved wave of bombings in 1999 that killed hundreds of Russians, and also for a blast in Moscow's Pushkin Square last summer that left 16 people dead.Last week three Chechens hijacked a planeload of Russians to Saudi Arabia, but the incident ended in a bloodbath when the plane was stormed.

Experts have been warning for some time that beleaguered Chechen fighters may turn to terrorist acts beyond the war zone in order to inflict pain on Russia and keep international attention focused on the Chechen cause.

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