ASTRAKHAN, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Ingushetia’s interior minister on Monday after a suicide attack in the republic’s largest city of Nazran killed at least 20 people.
The attack on the police headquarters early on Monday was the worst in years in the volatile North Caucasus republic. However, the republic has witnessed frequent attacks on federal troops and police of late.
“I believe this [attack] was not only a result of problems connected to terrorist activities, but also a result of the unsatisfactory performance of the republic’s law enforcement agencies,” Medvedev said. He also ordered a probe into the work of the police.
“The terrorist attack could have been prevented,” Medvedev said. “The vehicle used in the attack had been listed as stolen… Police had been warned about an attack being planned. This is totally unacceptable.”
Latest reports say 138 people, including 10 children, were also injured when a suicide bomber rammed a minivan full of explosives into the gates of the police headquarters. The blast, estimated as being equivalent to at least 500 kg of TNT, damaged the police building and nearby blocks of flats.
Earlier reports said 16 victims were in critical condition and were being transported to Moscow.
The explosion left a crater about 4 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The blast triggered more explosions as ammunition detonated in the police headquarters. The blast shattered windows and smashed balconies in residential buildings within a radius of 500 meters. Some 30 cars parked nearby were destroyed, Russian media reported.
Ingushetia’s deputy interior minister said earlier on Monday police had been informed on the planned attack.
“Information on a planned terrorist attack using a yellow Gazelle came to light on Saturday,” Zyaudin Daurbekov said. “Efforts had been made to track the vehicle.” He also said police had opened fire at the suicide bomber, but had been unable to prevent the attack.
“Our police are weak, they can protect neither our people, nor themselves,” Ingushetia’s acting president, Rashid Gaisanov, said earlier on Monday.
Ingushetia and Russia’s other mainly Muslim North Caucasus regions have been swept by violence in recent months. The republic’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, survived an assassination attempt in June.
The republic's construction minister was gunned down in his office last Wednesday. The murder followed the killing of a Supreme Court judge. Last month, the Ingush forensic chief was also killed.
Human rights groups have often alleged human rights abuses by law enforcement authorities in Ingushetia. Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, claimed in an article in July that heavy-handed actions by the authorities were responsible for driving many young people into the arms of the insurgents.