'30 killed' in Chechen truck bomb blast

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The Independent Online

A truck bomb ripped through a government compound in northern Chechnya today, killing at least 30 people and wounding 70 others, officials said.

A truck bomb ripped through a government compound in northern Chechnya today, killing at least 30 people and wounding 70 others, officials said.

The blast, coming on the first working day following a series of state holidays, underlined the violence that continues to roil Chechnya even as the Kremlin claims the more than the nearly four-year-old war is winding down and normal life returning.

Major-General Ruslan Avtayev, the chief of the Chechen branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the blast completely destroyed the two–story building housing the office of the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency that is leading Russia's campaign in Chechnya, in the town of Znamenskoye. It also damaged four nearby administrative buildings.

At least 30 people were killed, said Avtayev and Sultan Ahmetkhanov, the head of the Nadterechny region, where the blast occurred. Seventy people were hospitalized, Avtayev said. Ahmetkhanov said eight residential houses were also damaged.

Other officials' estimates varied widely.

An official in Chechnya's Justice Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 50 people had been killed. He said the Security Service building, the district police headquarters and the local administration building were in ruins and six apartment houses were badly damaged. The government buildings were full of people who had returned to work after a long series of May holidays, he said.

Chechen administration head Akhmad Kadyrov said at least 16 people were killed, the Interfax news agency reported.

Initial information indicated a truck carrying explosives exploded near the buildings, the ITAR–Tass news agency said. The blast left a crater up to 16 meters (53 feet) in diameter and two meters (6 feet) deep, Akhmetkhanov said. Other officials said it shattered windows 500 meters (yards) away.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky was heading to the scene, Interfax reported. A plane was bringing rescuers from the Emergency Situations Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Avtayev said.

Monday's blast was the latest in a string of truck– and car–bomb explosions in Chechnya, a technique the outmanned and outgunned rebels have used to strike at Russian forces and their Chechen colleagues.

In December, a truck–bomb attack on the headquarters of the Moscow–backed Chechen administration in the capital Grozny killed at least 70 people. The truck had passed through numerous checkpoints and the blast exposed the still–fragile state of security even in the most heavily guard part of the war–shattered region.

Kadyrov said the Znamenskoye attack showed that Russian and regional Chechen security services are unable to prevent all Chechen rebel attacks.

"It is necessary to be more alert and responsible, so that no cars with explosives can travel on the territory of the republic," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Northern Chechnya is considered the most stable part of the region. It was the first area to come under the control of Russian forces that entered the republic in 1999, starting the second war in a decade.

Znamenskoye houses a large refugee camp and has served as headquarters for international human rights monitors.

Russia's government minister for Chechnya said it would be "senseless" to increase the size of the Russian military contingent in the region – tens of thousands of troops – as a result of the attack.

"Large–scale hostilities are long gone, and it is impossible to prevent a terrorist attack with a large number of troops," Interfax quoted Ilyasov as saying. He said halting terror attacks would require "targeted operations by the secret services."

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