Putin orders law enforcement to increase security in Russia
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.