Putin cancels journey after Moscow bombs

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, cancelled a foreign trip scheduled to begin yesterday after two alleged Chechen suicide bombers killed more than a dozen people at an open-air rock concert in Moscow.

"The aim of this terrorist act is obvious ­ to sow fear, suspicion and ethnic tension in our society," Mr Putin said, breaking his silence over Saturday's attacks. "But we know that such traitors against their own people, such murderers, do not and cannot have a future ... This completely bloody and vicious crime is a crime against peaceful civilians."

The attacks killed 13 people as well as the two female suicide bombers. News reports said 48 people were still being treated in five hospitals. Some were in a serious condition.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. If confirmed as the work of Chechens, it would be the most serious challenge to Russia's strategy of limited autonomy for the province on its southern rim since rebels took hostage a theatre full of people in Moscow in October last year.

Mr Putin had been due to fly to Uzbekistan and then to Malaysia, where he was to sign a deal on supplying fighter aircraft. At least one official said the Kremlin was resolved to press on with organising a local presidential election in Chechnya in October. The poll date was announced the day before the bombing.

Moscow was calm yesterday, a day after the blasts, but an annual summer beer festival received few visitors.

Security officials said they had already established a link between the two women and Chechen rebel groups. Rashid Nurgaliyev, the deputy interior minister, said: "We are uncovering a terrorist network aimed at conducting diversionary terrorist attacks on the territory of Russia and abroad." He added that the women had been wearing belts stuffed with about 1kg (2.2lbs) of plastic explosives, packed with ball bearings and shrapnel to add to the carnage.

Mr Nurgaliyev said police had learned many lessons after the theatre siege, when Chechens took more than 700 people hostage. In the operation to release them, 129 hostages and 41 guerrillas died.

But he warned that more attacks could not be ruled out. "We are receiving information that leaders of Chechen bands are undertaking attempts to conduct terrorist acts not only in Chechnya, but outside. All police personnel and security forces are in constant readiness," he said.

Russian troops have been waging a second post-Soviet campaign to crush separatism in Chechnya since 1999.