A suspected terrorist bomb detonated amid hundreds of commuters crammed into a Moscow underground train yesterday morning, killing at least 39 people and injuring more than 120.
It was the worst in a string of bomb attacks, which have been blamed by Russian authorities on suicide bombers from the rebel republic of Chechnya.
The blast at 8.30am, which had the force of 5kg of TNT, gutted the train's second carriage just as it was reaching full speed and heading for central Moscow after pulling out of Avtozavodskaya station, about two miles from the Kremlin.
Witnesses said the wrecked and burning front cars skidded half a kilometre down the dark shaft, one of the Moscow metro system's deepest, as survivors screamed, choked and fought to open windows and doors.
Emergency workers later evacuated 700 people from the scene. Many had to walk about a mile through the dark, smoke-filled tunnel to reach Paveletskaya station.
Russian television showed the remains of thecarriage, a burnt-out jumble of twisted metal with what appeared to be charred human corpses strewn across it.
Police have a videotape of a woman suspected of being the attacker and her alleged accomplice standing on the platform at Avtozavodskaya station on the metro's Green Line before boarding the train.
President Vladimir Putin accused the rebel president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, of ordering the attack.
"We do not need any indirect confirmation," Putin said. "We know for certain that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terrorism".
That charge was quickly denied by a spokesman for Mr Maskhadov, who has been holed up in the mountains of southern Chechnya since the beginning of the war with Moscow, now in its fifth year. Mr Maskhadov was elected Chechen President after Russian forces withdrew in 1996 at the end of the first 20-month war against separatist rebels.
Some suggested the attack could be an effort to disrupt Russia's presidential elections, scheduled for 14 March, which Mr Putin is tipped to win. The leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said: "Acts of terrorism like this are aimed at increasing tensions and there could be more of them before the polls. These may become the bloodiest elections in Russian history."
Bystanders watching blast victims being led or carried to ambulances yesterday said they felt increasingly worried about their personal safety. "Our security services can't stop this. We're completely open to attack," said Oleg Saltykov, an accountant. "This is the second time that it's happened here".
The site of Friday's bombing is not far from the Dubrovka Theatre, where Chechen suicide bombers seized 800 hostages in October 2002. Over 120 hostages and all the Chechen fighters died when security forces entered the building after pumping it full of toxic sleeping gas.
Some Muscovites pinned the blame on Chechen rebels, who continue to kill about a dozen Russian troops every week in the guerrilla conflict.
"Why do they kill innocent people like this?" said Marina Khaluileva, 20, a student. "They could have peace if they want it, so why do they keep on doing this?"
The Kremlin has declared victory over the rebels repeatedly and has installed a pro-Moscow Chechen president in the capital city of Grozny. Despite this, rebel fighters still manage to elude some 70,000 Russian occupation troops.Reuse content