The Russian government vowed revenge last night on the terrorists behind a double "black widow" suicide bombing on Moscow's metro system that killed 38 people.
The Russian government vowed revenge last night on the terrorists behind a double "black widow" suicide bombing on Moscow's metro system which killed 38 people.
The bombings, the first such attack in Moscow in six years, were believed to have been carried out by two women. They raised fears of a return to the wave of terrorism which swept the Russian capital in the last decade, and prompted a fierce response from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who promised a renewed onslaught against the Chechen separatists suspected of the attack.
"A crime that is terrible in its consequences and heinous in its manner has been committed," he said. "Law enforcement bodies will spare no effort to track down and punish the criminals. Terrorists will be destroyed."
The first explosion, just before 8am, ripped through a packed carriage at the Lubyanka metro station, a busy intersection station next to the headquarters of the KGB's successor the FSB, just a few minutes walk north from the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre. Forty-five minutes later a second bomb went off at the Park Kultury station near Gorky Park.
While no one has yet claimed responsibility, and the Russian authorities have been reluctant to give away details of their investigation, the involvement of suicide bombers – especially female suicide bombers – has left few in doubt over the involvement of Chechen separatists.
FSB chief, Alexander Bortnikov, said last night that fragments of the two bombers bodies had been examined and appeared to be from the North Caucasus region. And the attack comes two months after rebel leader Dokka Umarov told a supportive website: "Blood will no longer be limited to our cities and towns. The war is coming to [Russian] cities."
Eyewitnesses emerging from the underground stations described a bloody scene on the platforms. "There was one guy whose skin had been ripped off from head to toe down one side," said Valery Shuverov, who was on his way home from a night shift near the Park Kultury station. The bombs were said to have been filled with chipped iron rods and screws. "I saw six or seven people bleeding," Mr Shuverov added.
Another witness, Kirill Gribov, said he had arrived at the same station on another train just as the bomb went off. "I remember a cloud of gas coming from the wrecked train in front of us, coloured in pink, maybe because of blood," the student told The New York Times. "Some people were in panic, some stood still, but all of us somehow found our way outside the station.
"It was only at the street when I realised what had just happened. Mobile service was blocked, I couldn't even call my parents, and I had to walk several kilometres because of the traffic."
Valentin Popov, 19, witnessed the blasts as his train rolled into the station. "I saw a dead person for the first time in my life," he said.
Mr Shuverov, who was not hurt himself, described the explosion as relatively small. "There was a flash and a bang – not very big, just like the kind of firecrackers we might set off at new year. The only reason there were so many casualties was because there were so many people close by," he said. "There were so many people milling about on the platform that nobody could move. It took about 30 seconds of jostling for people to get on and off the train."
Outside Lubyanka station, the site of the other blast, a man in his thirties desperately tried to reach his brother via the city's jammed mobile phone network – blocked, according to some, because the authorities feared further explosions detonated by mobile phone.
"I'm not scared, but I feel like we're at war," he told Reuters. "My only feeling is to take vengeance. On whom? I don't know yet. But it cannot remain unpunished." There were separate radio reports that two women in headscarves were beaten by a group of passengers on a Metro train after the bombing took place.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who laid flowers on the platform at Lubyanka station yesterday, said that the terrorists were "simply beasts. We will find and destroy them all," he vowed. The Moscow city government has declared a day of mourning.
Foreign governments were quick to send their sympathies. In a statement issued by the White House, Barack Obama condemned what he called the "heinous" attack, and said the American people stood united with the people of Russia. The US President later telephoned his Russian counterpart to personally offer his condolences. Gordon Brown said he was "appalled" by the attacks.
The use of young women was particularly chilling for a country which has faced this particular threat before. Chechen rebels first used female suicide bombers in 2000, when two women blew themselves up at a Russian army base in Alkahn Yurt, a village in Chechnya that had been the scene of a massacre carried out by Russian troops the previous year. The exploitation of vulnerable women by terrorists came to international attention with the Nord-Ost Theatre siege in 2002, when women wearing explosive belts were among the hostage-takers.
But there is a key difference between the women at Nord-Ost and the two who killed themselves yesterday, says a security expert. "The women at Nord-Ost said they were ready to die, but no one from that group decided to blow herself up," said Andrei Soldatov, editor of Russian security website Agentura.ru. "They were actually quite unprepared for it."
The "black widows" used in these operations have tended to be young, ill-educated and in a vulnerable situation. That gives the terrorists enough leverage to pressure "psychologically broken young women into 'redeeming' themselves," Mr Soldatov added.
Ruthlessly efficient: The Moscow metro
Londoners might think that after yesterday's tragic events, the whole Moscow Metro system, or at least the affected line, would be out of action for days or weeks, writes Shaun Walker.
However, within a couple of hours of the suicide bomb attacks, all the lines, except the Sokolnicheskaya where the blasts occurred, were running smoothly, and by mid-afternoon trains were even running along the affected track. More remarkably still, the underground network stayed open after the first bomb went off, allowing passengers to enter the train where the second blast hit 40 minutes later.
But Muscovites expect nothing less. In a city that is often chaotic, the Metro is a symbol of ruthless efficiency. Here, "engineering works" do not close down sections of track for weeks on end, and there is no need for announcements stating that "There is a good service operating on all lines", because there always is. And during rush hour, it's unthinkable to wait more than two minutes for a train.
The Metro is also an affordable way to get around a city where most things are horrendously expensive: a journey across town costs about 50p. There are an estimated 7 million journeys made each day on the network, and the carriages are generally packed, despite the short wait between trains. Carriages were emptier than usual yesterday afternoon, as commuters took time to get over their jitters. But this morning, it is likely that the Metro system will be as busy as ever.
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