Huge lorry bomb kills dozens in Chechnya

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At least 40 people died yesterday when a truck crammed with explosives detonated in a government complex in Chechnya, causing devastation and undermining Russian claims that the region was returning to normal.

At least 40 people died yesterday when a truck crammed with explosives detonated in a government complex in Chechnya, causing devastation and undermining Russian claims that the region was returning to normal.

The suicide bomb in Znamenskoye, in the relatively peaceful north of the territory, wounded about 100 more people. It went off seven weeks after a constitutional referendum designed to anchor the Muslim region firmly to Russia.

Soldiers guarding the building, which housed the local security services, opened fire on the truck but failed to prevent it smashing through barriers before exploding in a ball of flame yards short of the main building. Rescue workers and helpers struggled to free victims trapped under fallen masonry and woodwork, and at least two people were said to have been pulled alive from the rubble.

According to local TV reports, most of the casualties were police guarding the complex and villagers living near by. Two bombers thought to have been driving the truck are believed to have been killed.

The explosion left a crater five metres deep and 10 metres wide and officials said it shattered windows 500 metres away. It also knocked out the town's electricity and water.

A senior regional official blamed fighters loyal to the fugitive rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, although his spokesman issued a denial. Diplomats said that, so confused and anarchic was Chechnya, it would be difficult to work out whether the attack was authorised or a freelance operation by local clansmen.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin vowed not to let such attacks derail the Kremlin's peace plan for the region. "We can not allow anything like this to happen, nor will we," he told government ministers.

Nevertheless, yesterday's carnage is another reminder that the security situation in Chechnya remains out of control despite the Kremlin's insistence things are improving.

The authorities argue that basic services, such as education and health care, are returning to normal with schools and hospitals reopening.

But in recent days there has been evidence of a resurgence of terrorist activity and Moscow believes Chechen rebels are trying to give a sign to their backers that they remain active. On 9 May, a public holiday during which Russia celebrates victory over Germany in the Second World War, a car bomb was discovered in Grozny before it could be detonated.

After a decade of conflict in the region Mr Putin's tough stance against the rebels won him widespread popularity in Russia, sweeping him to an easy victory in the presidential elections in 2000. But, despite deploying overwhelming firepower in Chechnya, the Russian President has failed to prevent a string of terrorist outrages from separatists. Last October, rebels seized 700 hostages in a Moscow theatre and 129 people, including all the Chechen fighters died, after Russian forces stormed the building.

In Chechnya itself, the rebels have launched attacks against the Russian military and Moscow's allies within the local government. Last December, a bomb attack on regional administration headquarters in Grozny killed about 80 people. On that occasion, the attack revealed the fragile state of security because the truck passed through numerous checkpoints before detonated. According to Russian media, an estimated 250 people have gone missing in Chechnya since January.

Nevertheless, Mr Putin is expected to press ahead with his peace plan for Chechnya, which will be built on the constitution approved in the recent referendum, dividing executive and legislative powers between Moscow and Grozny.

Comments