A bomb blast in a packed stadium in the Chechen capital Grozny has killed up to 32 people including the pro-Moscow Chechen president, Mr Ahmad Kadyrov. The commander of Russian forces in the region was also caught up in the blast, but his fate is unclear.
There had been confusion over the condition of both Mr Kadyrov and General Valery Baranov but Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, confirmed Mr Kadyrov did indeed perish in the blast.
"There can be no doubt that retribution is unavoidable for those whom we are fighting today. It will be unavoidable for terrorists," Mr Putin told war veterans whom he met as part of celebrations to mark the Soviet Union's 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.
Russia's Defence Ministry said Chechen separatists, fighting Moscow's rule in the region since the mid-1990s, were behind the attack. Chechnya's deputy interior minister, Mr Khamid Kadayev, said: "The bomb was placed inside a concrete part of the stadium."
The exact number of dead was not clear. Itar-Tass news agency put the death toll at 14 but later quoted the Emergencies Ministry as saying there were only four dead. Other unconfirmed reports said the number of dead was as high as 32.
Five people were detained on suspicion of involvement in the bomb blast. the
suspects were arrested an hour after the explosion
Television showed scenes of pandemonium at the stadium where people were celebrating "Victory Day". People were seen running around in panic and smoke rising from the wreckage of the stands.
Cars down on the field were driving victims away. One man could be seen carrying a young boy, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth, down the terraces.
The blast appeared to target the VIP area of the stadium during celebrations to mark the Soviet Union's 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.
Interfax reported that 25 people were injured. Brief spurts of automatic gunfire could be heard.
Mr Kadyrov, bearded and thickset, once called on Chechnya's Muslims to fight a Jihad (Holy War) against the Russian army. But in recent years he made his peace with the Kremlin and became the lynchpin of President Putin's attempts to restore firm Russian rule in Chechnya. He was elected last October to build an administration capable of establishing full Russian authority.
The attack, if indeed carried out by Chechen rebels, would be the most audacious launched on Russian forces and the administration in Chechnya since Russian forces reoccupied the area in 1999. Victory Day is a major national celebration in Russia.
The Grozny ceremonies were mirrored by festivities throughout the country, including a marchpast on Moscow's Red Square.
Chechen rebels have in the past targeted official events and public gatherings for attacks.
Russia has been fighting separatists in the mainly Muslim northern Caucasus region of Chechnya since it first tried to break away in the 1990s. Moscow reimposed its rule in the capital Grozny in a 1999 invasion ordered by Putin but guerrilla resistance continues.
Chechen rebels have also launched attacks in the Russian heartland, including Moscow. (Agencies)
- The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen, condemned the bomb attack in Grozny. He sadi: "I condemn utterly this appalling act of terror in a crowded stadium which has claimed the lives of many people, including the President of the Chechen republic, Mr Kadyrov. I extend my condolences to the family of all the victims of this terrible act. No political cause can justify terrorism."