Seven die as Chechens blamed for bomb attack in heart of Moscow

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The Independent Online

At least seven people were killed and 50 injured when a bomb exploded in an underpass beneath Pushkin Square, the physical and symbolic heart of Moscow. Russian authorities had been on alert for terrorist attacks in Chechnya around the first anniversary of events that led to the latest war in the Caucasus. But the bombers, whoever they were, struck in the capital instead.

At least seven people were killed and 50 injured when a bomb exploded in an underpass beneath Pushkin Square, the physical and symbolic heart of Moscow. Russian authorities had been on alert for terrorist attacks in Chechnya around the first anniversary of events that led to the latest war in the Caucasus. But the bombers, whoever they were, struck in the capital instead.

Seconds after the explosion, commuters and shoppers in shredded, blood-stained clothes staggered from the still-smoking entrance to the underpass beneath the statue of the nation's best-loved poet, Aleksander Pushkin.

The bomb went off at 6pm, at the height of the rush hour, when many office workers would have been shopping in the little underground kiosks.

"I was inside my kiosk," said Natalya Zulumatova, a sales assistant who escaped with cuts and singed hair. "We heard a bang and the lights went out. I was hit by the blast wave. There was smoke all over the place ... I saw many injured people."

Ambulances rushed to the scene while police held back onlookers. A Russian TV reporter who got past police lines said the carnage was the worst he had seen. "Even the police and the ambulance crews are dazed with shock," he said.

Confirming that seven people had died but more may follow, the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, said it was clear the authorities were dealing with terrorists, possibly linked to Chechnya, and indeed the prosecutor-general was quick to open a criminal investigation. "The nature of the crime is obvious - the explosion hit a place packed with people at rush hour," said the mayor.

President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the victims' families.

It is nearly a year since bombs in a Moscow shopping mall and apartment blocks in Moscow and other cities killed more than 300 people.

Those attacks were blamed on Chechen terrorists. But another theory is that the FSB, the successor to the KGB, planted the bombs to create a pretext for Russia to send troops back into Chechnya.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest bombing.

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