Chechen suicide bomber kills 33 at Russian hospital

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden lorry into a hospital at Russia's main military base near the border with Chechnya yesterday, killing at least 33 people and injuring 76.

A suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden lorry into a hospital at Russia's main military base near the border with Chechnya yesterday, killing at least 33 people and injuring 76.

It was the latest in a chain of bloody suicide attacks, blamed on Chechen rebels, that have left more than 100 people dead in the war-ravaged Caucasus and in Moscow over the past two months.

Officials said that 33 bodies had been pulled from the ruins of the hospital and the death toll was likely to rise. About 115 patients and medical staff were inside the hospital in Mozdok, a few miles from the Chechen border, when the Soviet-made light lorry crashed through the building's guarded iron gates and exploded in a fireball.

The four-storey red-brick structure collapsed like a house of cards and began to burn ferociously, making it impossible for emergency workers to approach, witnesses said.

It took firefighters more than two hours to contain the blaze, before they could enter the ruins to retrieve bodies, Russian television reported.

Local authorities in North Ossetia told Russian news agencies that there were critical shortages of medicines, bandages and blood plasma.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, to fly to Mozdok to investigate the blast.

Mozdok, a dusty steppe town in the republic of North Ossetia, is home to the largest military base in southern Russia and the main launchpad for the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in Chechnya.

The Kremlin, which has repeatedly declared the Chechnya war over, has been deeply embarrassed by a wave of determined suicide attacks, which began at the new year with a huge truck bomb that destroyed the government headquarters in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, killing 140 people.

In May another truck bomb wrecked a district administration complex in northern Chechnya, leaving 58 people dead. Another Grozny truck bomb in June killed 38 pro-Moscow government workers.

Chechen women terrorists, known as shakhidy, or martyrs, wearing explosive belts, have struck repeatedly this summer. A female bomber killed 17 people driving in a military bus near Mozdok in mid-June, and two more struck a Moscow rock concert early last month, killing 16.

Officially, about 5,000 Russian troops have died in the current war, which began in October 1999. But the independent Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which works closely with the families of drafted youths, puts Russian military casualty figures at 11,000 dead and more than 30,000 wounded.

This is the second post- Soviet war aimed at putting down a secessionist rebellion in tiny Chechnya. The Defence Ministry says 5,500 Russians died in the first war, from 1994 to 1996, but the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers says the number is closer to 14,000.

Comments