Deadly terror attack hits close to home for Putin
MOSCOW | Terrorism struck at the heart of Russia’s second-biggest city as a shrapnel-filled bomb tore through a subway train in St. Petersburg, killing 11 and wounding dozens more on a day when President Vladimir Putin was in his hometown for meetings.
The bomb exploded while the train was traveling between two stations. Video footage shared on social media showed bodies strewn across a blood-splattered platform and panicked survivors clambering through a gaping hole in a subway car.
Investigators were working to “give a full picture of what happened,” said Mr. Putin, who was born in the city and who later placed a bouquet of roses at the subway station that was hit.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a social media post that the explosion was a “terrorist attack,” and the Interfax news service reported that investigators think a prime suspect, a 23-year-old man from Central Asia, had links to radical Islamist organizations.
While no group claimed responsibility for the attack as of Monday evening, suspicion fell on the Islamic State, which has threatened on multiple occasions to attack Russia over its military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Although the terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including the bombing of a plane full of Russian
tourists returning from Egypt in 2015, this would be its most serious strike on Russian soil.
Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee said the blast was caused by an unidentified explosive device packed with shrapnel. Witnesses said the explosion took place after a man left a briefcase on the train.
The blast occurred at 2:40 p.m. local time as the packed train was leaving the Technology Institute station and heading to the Sennaya Square station.
Another bomb, reportedly disguised as a fire extinguisher, was defused at a nearby station, officials said. Reports said that bomb was five times more powerful than the one that detonated.
Security officials said they were hunting for two people in connection with the attack. Russian media said one of the suspects, a bearded man dressed all in black, was caught on surveillance cameras checking his cellphone near the station in the aftermath of the bombing.
“Everything was covered in smoke, there were a lot of firefighters,” Maria Smirnova, who was on the train behind the one hit by the blast, told Russia’s Dozhd television channel. “Firefighters shouted to us to run for the exit, and everyone ran. Everyone was panicking.”
“There were people covered in blood, with their hair burned,” another witness told Russian media.
Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told reporters that seven people were killed on the scene, another died in an ambulance heading for a hospital and two others died at the hospital. She said 37 people had been injured. Helicopters took some of the injured to hospitals.
Georgy Poltavchenko, the governor of St. Petersburg, Russia’s cultural capital, declared a three-day period of mourning in the city. People began gathering for vigils in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“An immeasurable pain that tears the heart to pieces. Petersburg, we mourn,” read a banner at a soccer match in Moscow, as security measures were stepped up across the Russian capital.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement. “Those responsible for this appalling act must be held accountable,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
President Trump, speaking briefly with reporters at the White House, said the blast was a “terrible thing — happening all over the world — absolutely a terrible thing.”
The Islamic State has mounted a slick Russian-language recruitment campaign that includes a magazine, Istok, and a dedicated propaganda channel, Furat Media.
Mr. Putin said 5,000 to 7,000 people from Russia and other former Soviet states, many of them Chechens, are fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. Last year, Islamist militants in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region pledged their allegiance to the group.
Mr. Putin said one of the reasons for the Kremlin’s military involvement in Syria was to eliminate homegrown radical fighters before they return to Russia. The attack Monday will raise fears that Russia’s military campaign has been a failure in this regard.
Islamist fighters have carried out a number of high-profile attacks in Russia, including the Beslan school siege in 2004, which took the lives of 330 people. In 2010, two female suicide bombers killed 40 people on the Moscow metro.
Mr. Putin did not mention the bombing in his press conference on Monday evening after a meeting with Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus.
A CITY SHAKEN: A bomb blast that tore through a subway train deep under St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday left a chaotic scene with victims sprawled on a smoky platform.
Investigators worked to “give a full picture of what happened,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. No group claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on the Islamic State.