BUS BLAST

Putin or­ders law en­force­ment to in­crease se­cu­rity in Rus­sia

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - PHOTO BY REUTERS

Emer­gency work­ers ex­am­ine the site of a blast on an elec­tric bus in Vol­gograd, Rus­sia, on Mon­day. Four­teen peo­ple were killed in the sec­ond sui­cide bomb­ing in the city in two days. The bomb­ings raised new con­cerns about se­cu­rity at the Sochi Win­ter Olympics, which open on Feb 7. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang sent con­do­lences to vic­tims as the For­eign Min­istry con­demned the ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

A blast that tore through an elec­tric bus in the south­ern Rus­sian city of Vol­gograd dur­ing the Mon­day morn­ing rush hour, killing 14, was prob­a­bly car­ried out by sui­cide bombers from the same or­ga­ni­za­tion be­hind a rail­way bomb­ing on Sun­day, Rus­sian of­fi­cials said.

More than 30 peo­ple were killed in the two ex­plo­sions, putting the city of 1 mil­lion on edge and high­light­ing the ter­ror­ist threat Rus­sia faces as it pre­pares to host Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Games in Sochi.

Vol­gograd, about 650 kilo­me­ters north­east of Sochi, serves as a key trans­port hub for south­ern Rus­sia, with nu­mer­ous bus routes link­ing it to volatile prov­inces in Rus­sia’s North Cau­ca­sus, where in­sur­gents have been seek­ing an Is­lamic state.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin or­dered law en­force­ment agen­cies on Mon­day to in­crease se­cu­rity in Vol­gograd and na­tion­wide, the Krem­lin said.

Putin is­sued sev­eral in­struc­tions to a com­mit­tee that co­or­di­nates coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts “to strengthen se­cu­rity through­out Rus­sia and specif­i­cally in the Vol­gograd re­gion,” the Krem­lin said.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping ex­tended con­do­lences to Putin on Mon­day. In his mes­sage, Xi ex­pressed his sym­pa­thy and con­do­lences for the heavy ca­su­al­ties caused by the two ex­plo­sions.

On the same day, Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang also sent a mes­sage of con­do­lence to Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev.

For­eign Min­istry spokesman Qin Gang said on Mon­day that China “strongly” con­demned the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Vol­gograd.

The blast at about 8 am lo­cal time on Mon­day tore through a bus packed with morn­ing com­muters. Investigators said they be­lieved it had been set off by a male sui­cide bomber.

At the scene of the ex­plo­sion, near a mar­ket in the Dz­erzhin­sky re­gion of the city, de­bris lay scat­tered around the black­ened shell of the trol­ley­bus, its roof blown out­ward by the ex­plo­sion. The force of the blast blew out the win­dows of nearby houses, ac­cord­ing to Liu Yi­ran, a Xin­hua News Agency reporter in Vol­gograd.

Health of­fi­cials re­ported 14 fa­tal­i­ties in Mon­day morn­ing’s blast and 28 in­jured, in­clud­ing 27 be­ing treated in a hos­pi­tal. An in­fant aged around 6 months is among the se­ri­ously in­jured. Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Rus­sia’s main in­ves­tiga­tive agency, said Mon­day’s ex­plo­sion in­volved a bomb sim­i­lar to the one used in Sun­day’s at­tack at the city’s main rail­way sta­tion.

“That con­firms the investigators’ ver­sion that the two ter­ror at­tacks were linked,’’ Markin said in a state­ment. “They could have been pre­pared in one place.’’

Liu said that the lo­cal gov­ern­ment had raised the se­cu­rity level af­ter the sec­ond at­tack. Po­lice­men pa­trolling near the sta­tion have been re­placed by army sol­diers.

Some res­i­dents told Xin­hua that they thought the at­tacks had been plot­ted to cre­ate an at­mos­phere of fear in Rus­sia be­fore the open­ing of the Sochi Olympics.

Ye Hailin, an anti-ter­ror­ism ex­pert at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, said Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties will pay more at­ten­tion to the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the North Cau­ca­sus.

The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment may pos­si­bly launch raids against ter­ror­ist tar­gets in the re­gion to pre­vent or de­ter fur­ther at­tacks, he said.

Fe­male sui­cide bombers are more com­mon in at­tacks orig­i­nat­ing from the North Cau­ca­sus than from other parts of the world, Ye said, adding that over the past 30 years sev­eral such at­tacks have taken place in the re­gion.

Ye said fe­male at­tack­ers are more likely to avoid be­ing frisked by law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties, so that it’s eas­ier for them to get ac­cess to tar­gets.

Xing Guangcheng, a re­searcher at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, said that as a ma­jor city in the Cau­ca­sus re­gion, Vol­gograd is the best choice of tar­get for ter­ror­ists from the North Cau­ca­sus. The ter­ror­ists car­ried out the at­tacks be­fore the Win­ter Olympics, hop­ing to at­tract the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Xing said.

An of­fi­cial from China’s Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport who de­clined to be named said that se­cu­rity fac­tors will be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion when the team goes to Sochi.

Mean­while, au­thor­i­ties have con­firmed the iden­tity of the sui­cide bomber at the Vol­gograd train sta­tion on Sun­day, Rus­sian me­dia re­ported.

Investigators said the sui­cide bomber — be­lieved to be a woman — set off her bomb af­ter be­ing stopped by a po­lice of­fi­cer at the metal de­tec­tors at the cen­tral en­trance to the sta­tion when it was packed with peo­ple trav­el­ing to cel­e­brate the New Year.

Un­con­firmed news re­ports iden­ti­fied the bomber as a Dages­tani woman named Ok­sana As­lanova who had been mar­ried to two Is­lamists who were killed in bat­tles with fed­eral forces.

How­ever, amid con­flict­ing re­ports, the In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee said they were ex­am­in­ing a the­ory that the ex­plo­sion could also have been set off by a male.

Fe­male sui­cide bombers are of­ten re­ferred to in Rus­sia as “black wid­ows” — women who seek to avenge the deaths of their fam­ily mem­bers in the fight­ing by tar­get­ing Rus­sian civil­ians. AFP, Reuters and AP con­trib­uted to this story.

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