Deadly ter­ror at­tack hits close to home for Putin

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARC BENNETTS

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 video

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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