Russia swears revenge after suicide bomb attack at airport

 

Moscow

The Russian leadership reacted to yesterday's suicide bombing at a Moscow airport with bitter anger as Vladimir Putin yesterday vowed revenge for the attack which highlighted the vulnerability of the country's capital to attack from terrorists.

Both halves of Russia's ruling duo vowed a tough response to Monday's attack, with President Dmitry Medvedev ordering that terrorists should be hunted down and "destroyed on the spot" if they resist arrest.

There were five foreigners among the 35 victims, including Briton Gordon Campbell Cousland, the Foreign Office confirmed yesterday. Nine of the victims have yet to be identified. Russia's Health Minister said nearly 50 people remained in a "serious" or "very serious" condition in hospital yesterday afternoon.

Details about the blast, which tore through the international arrivals hall at Domodedovo Airport just after 4.30pm on Monday, remained sketchy yesterday, with several versions of events being considered by investigators. But it seems likely the atrocity was the work of a lone, male suicide bomber, with the explosives possibly hidden in a suitcase he was carrying.

Early leaks from the investigation reinforced suspicions that the bomber had been from the North Caucasus, Russia's volatile southern region that includes Chechnya.

Previous suicide attacks, including the metro bombs in Moscow last year, have been claimed by rebels who want to create an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus. The Russian website Life News yesterday published what it said was a photograph of the severed head of the bomber, which has been sent to police and special forces across the North Caucasus region for cross-checking and identification. The website also published what it said was a warning from the security services to Moscow police sent a month ago, which told of five Chechens who had travelled to Moscow to carry out a terrorist attack.

Both Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev visited the injured in Moscow hospitals yesterday. Mr Putin described the attack as an "abominable crime in both its senselessness and its cruelty" and said he had no doubt the crime would be solved. He said that "retribution is inevitable" for those behind the attack.

Mr Medvedev said government officials would be held accountable for any lapses in security. He said those in charge of the airport should be held responsible for what he called a "state of anarchy" in security.

"People were allowed to walk in from anywhere. The entrance restrictions were partial at best," he said. The airport, which has had a disastrous winter including a crash landing and a power failure that closed it for more than 24 hours, denied it was at fault.Officials found guilty of negligence could face up to seven years in prison.

Mr Medvedev ordered that security was tightened at all airports and other transport infrastructure hubs, raising the possibility of Israeli-style ultra-strict security being imposed.

Yesterday, all passengers arriving at Domodedovo had to pass their baggage through a scanner before entering. But it is unclear how this would deter a suicide bomber who wanted to do maximum damage – the scanners mean there are now large congregations of people in squashed queues waiting at the airport entrances, creating an easy target.

Mr Medvedev told a meeting of top-ranking Federal Security Service officials yesterday that the organisers of the attack carried "absolutely the same responsibility" as the bomber. "We need to activate work on all channels – starting from neutralising bandits, stopping their financial and social support, and identifying their accomplices," he said.

There were also fears last night that anger over the bomb attack, if it does turn out to be the work of terrorists from the North Caucasus, could further inflame racial tensions in Moscow.

There have been clashes between Russian nationalists and migrants from the North Caucasus in recent weeks.

Today has been declared a day of mourning in Moscow, with entertainment programmes wiped from television schedules.

The victims

The Briton who died in the bombing was named yesterday as Gordon Cousland, 39, who was just months away from getting married. Five foreigners were among the 26 dead identified last night.

Mr Cousland's brother Robin said the family had become fearful for Mr Cousland when they failed to get a response from his mobile phone after they heard about the bomb. "Normally when he visits a place he is pretty good at phoning to say he has arrived," he said. "As the evening went on, we heard nothing from him and began to fear the worst.

"Late last night we passed information to the Foreign Office as we thought he was missing and his company were doing the same thing and they couldn't contact him. We received word last night about it."

Mr Cousland, the father of a six-month-old daughter who was due to marry in April, was described as a man of energy and enthusiasm by his colleagues in London.

The property consultant worked in the London office of marketing company CACI where colleague Ian Thurman said he had put in an "amazing amount of effort" to open up the Eastern European property market.

Also among the dead was London resident Kirill Budrashov, initially thought to be British by Russian investigators.

An acquaintance told The Independent yesterday that Mr Budrashov was not a British citizen.

He was travelling with his girlfriend, Elvira Muratova, to a meeting in Moscow. The pair worked together at New Millenium Group, a financial headhunting firm. Ms Muratova survived and is believed to be in hospital. Their one-year-old son is in London with a nanny.

A young and promising Ukrainian playwright was also among the dead, having arrived half an hour before the blast on a flight from Odessa. Anna Mishutina, who wrote under the name Anna Yablonskaya, was visiting Moscow to receive a prize for her play The Pagans. The Royal Court Theatre in London says it will go ahead with a planned reading of the play in April.

Shaun Walker and Terri Judd

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