A suicide bomber blew himself up inside the arrivals hall of Moscow’s busiest airport yesterday, as terror once again struck in the heart of Russia.
The attack killed at least 35 people and injured around 170. There was at least one British victim among the dead.
Witnesses at Domodedovo airport said that the bomber shouted: "I will kill you all," before triggering the blast that sent ball-bearings and shrapnel across the international arrivals hall at around 4.30pm local time (1.30pm GMT), shortly after two flights from the UK had landed.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, promised to track down those responsible for the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on militants from the North Caucasus, where the Russian authorities are engaged in a battle with Islamic militants.
The Foreign Office this morning confirmed that Gordon Cousland, a British citizen, had died in the attacks. They were said to be “urgently investigating” reports of a second British victim. The Russian authorities said there had been two Britons killed in the blast.
British Airways and BMI use the airport and both had flights landing within an hour of the blast. Witnesses spoke of an all-engulfing pall of smoke, which broke to reveal a horrific scene.
“It was a huge sound, and suddenly I could see bodies everywhere. I don’t know how many. Maybe 10, maybe 20,” said Alexei Spiridonov, an airport worker who was just a few dozen metres away from the blast. “It was about a minute and a half before people started running in to help.”
Photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the blast and posted onTwitter showed bodies and severed limbs strewn across the floor, as well as pools of blood and small burning fires. Within a couple of minutes, the airport medical and police teams were on hand, some using baggage trolleys to wheel out the injured. Later, dozens of ambulances ferried them to hospitals across Moscow.
“Everyone around me died,” said Artyom Zhilenkov, 30, a driver who was waiting for an arriving passenger from Dusseldorf. His clothes were caked with dried mud and blood. “The guy standing next to me was torn to pieces,” he told The Independent.He attributed his survival to dunking himself in icy water last week in an Orthodox Christian ritual, but admitted to being shaken up. “I’ve been scared to go on the Metro becauseof the bombs there; now they’re bombing the airports,” he said.
Mr Spiridonov said that he believed most of the victims would have been people waiting to meet passengers off the flights. Taxi drivers usually congregate at the point where passengers exit from baggage reclaim, trying to drum up custom. Mark Green, who had just arrived on a BritishAirways flight, said he heard the huge explosion as he left the terminal.
“Literally, it shook you,” he said. “A lot of alarms… were going off and people started flowing out of the terminal, some of whom were covered in blood,” he told the BBC. “One gentleman had a pair of jeans on that was ripped and his thigh from his groin to his knee was covered in blood.”
Mr Medvedev has called the rebellion in the North Caucasus region the biggest threat to the security of Russia. It is led by Doku Umarov who says he wants to create an Islamic caliphate across the restive North Caucasus region.
Militants have vowed to take the bombing campaign to Moscow and attack transport and economic targets.
The Interfax news agency, citing law enforcement sources, said the head of the suspected bomber had been found at the scene, and Russian television reported that he had been a man aged between 30 and 35, who had an “Arabic” appearance; possibly from the North Caucasus.
Moscow suffered its worst attack in six years in March 2010 when two female suicide bombers from Dagestan set off explosives in the Metro, killing 40 people. The Russian leadership has staked its reputation on quelling the rebellion.
Vladimir Putin, now the Prime Minister, launched a war in 1999 to regain control over Chechnya, but the insurgency continues and has spread to neighbouring regions. Occasionally, the fight comes to Moscow, such as in last year’s Metro bombings, or in 2004, when Domodedovo was again the target.
Then, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in midair, having boarded two flights that took off from the airport, after bribing security officials to let them on to their planes without checks.
“Security will be strengthened at large transport hubs,” Mr Medvedev wrote on Twitter yesterday. “We mourn the victims of the terrorist attack at Domodedovo airport. The organisers will be tracked down and punished.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama condemned the “outrageous act of terrorism” in Moscow.
Extraordinarily, within an hour of the blast, the airport was back running at full capacity, with arriving international passengers passing through the same hall.“They’ve just covered up the blast area in tarpaulin,” said one British woman arriving from London three hours after the blast. “Everything was normal at passport control but there was a horrible smell and we could see some smashed shop windows.”