Suicide blast kills 17 and injures 50 in Volgograd

Southern Russia train station bombing thought to be work of Dagestani woman

In this photo made by a public camera the flash of an explosion illuminates the entrance to Volgograd railway station yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/ Associated Press Television News

In this photo made by a public camera the flash of an explosion illuminates the entrance to Volgograd railway station yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/ Associated Press Television News

Mon, Dec 30, 2013, 01:00

Seventeen people were killed and another 50 injured after a suicide bombing at a railway station in the southern Russian city of Volgograd that highlighted the region’s security vulnerability just six weeks before the Winter Olympics.

The blast ripped through an area between the station entrance and metal frames that had been installed as a precaution against terror attacks.

There were conflicting reports on the identity of the perpetrator; the authorities first indicated that a young woman from the Caucasus may have been responsible, as in previous attacks in Russia over the past decade. But latterly, news agencies reported that it was a man wearing a rucksack who was behind the attack, though he may not have been acting alone.

Ice-covered ground
CCTV video shows a bright flash of light inside the station as the camera, located several hundred metres across the square, shakes from the impact. A cloud of smoke emerges seconds later. Pictures on social networks show people trying to help the injured on ice-covered ground in front of the Stalin-era building, its windows smashed by the blast.

Among the dead was a 12-year-old boy, whose father survived but lost a leg. Witnesses reported seeing many corpses. “I heard the blast and ran towards it,” a witness, Vladimir, told Rossiya-24 television station. “I saw melted, twisted bits of metal, broken glass and bodies lying on the street.”

Putin’s condolences
The emergencies ministry sent aircraft to take those with the worst injuries to Moscow hospitals. President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences and sent a deputy prime minister, Olga Golodets, to the scene. He also ordered law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures to ensure security. A federal police spokesman, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said security would be stepped up at railway stations and airports.

Earlier, a statement by the Russian national anti-terrorist committee said the explosion was presumed to have been caused by a female suicide bomber, amid reports the attacker’s head had been retrieved. One report identified the perpetrator as a Dagestani woman by the name of Oksana Aslanova, widow of a militant.

Russian media reports, quoting law-enforcement sources, said the explosion happened after a police officer tried to stop a suspicious young woman near security gates installed to prevent guns and explosives being taken inside the station.

Soldiers found an unexploded grenade at the scene, Vladimir Markin, an investigative committee spokesman, told the news agency RIA. He said the frames installed at the entrances of all stations and airports – a security measure ridiculed in the media – had prevented more casualties. A train from Moscow was due to arrive half an hour after the explosion.

A Russian security expert, Andrey Soldatov, said the attack showed militants in the North Caucasus had “the capability and enough people to stage bombing attacks” on the eve of the Sochi Olympics.

“The symbolism is in the fact that the militants are capable of staging attacks beyond the North Caucasus. The tactical significance is that security forces will now have to divert their attention from Sochi to other regions of Russia.”

Security concerns
It was unlikely the Kremlin would need to reconsider security in Sochi, Mr Soldatov added. Volgograd was the scene of a blast two months ago on a crowded bus, an attack also blamed on a female suicide bomber from Dagestan. On Friday, an explosion killed three people near a police station in the North Caucasus city of Pyatigorsk.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the bombing came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Winter Games in Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains, about 600 miles southwest of Volgograd. Suicide bombings and other attacks linked to Islamic rebels roaming the North Caucasus have rocked Russia for years.

Mr Markin said of yesterday’s attack: “When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device.”

Shrapnel ingredients
He added that the bomb contained about 22lbs of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel.

Mr Markin said that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed at a time when several trains were delayed. Russia’s health ministry said about 50 people were injured. Mr Markin said 34 were taken to hospital, many in grave condition.

A witness, Alexander Koblyakov, told Rossiya-24:“People were lying on the ground, screaming and calling for help. I helped carry out a police officer whose head and face were covered in blood. He couldn’t speak.” – (Guardian service)