Two terrorist attacks on the Moscow subway on Monday killed 38 people and left over 60 injured, forcing enhanced security measures across Russia and drawing international condemnation.
The first attack on one of the world's busiest metro systems occurred just before 8:00 a.m. (04:00 GMT) at the Lubyanka station under the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) as people hurried to work.
That blast took the lives of 24 people. The second, some 40 minutes later four stops down the line at Park Kultury station, killed another 12. Two have since died of injuries sustained in the bombings, which injured more than 60 people.
The bombings were the first major terrorist attacks in the Russian capital for six years. Full service has by now been restored on the Sokolnicheskaya metro line, including for the stations where the bombings occurred.
Two women and a man are wanted in connection with the terrorist attack, a law enforcement source said.
Eyewitnesses described the chaos and panic that followed the blasts.
"I was in shock. I was deafened by the sound of the blast, but at first I didn't think it was a terrorist attack. Then I saw all the smoke and realized it had been an explosion. My only thought was to get away as quickly as possible," said Alexandra Antonova, who was at the Lubyanka station when the first explosion occurred.
Another witness said that some of the wounded were pushed along in the crowd of around 1,000 people trying to leave the station via one escalator.
"At the exit near the escalator two wounded women, who had been carried along in the crowd, overtook me. They had cuts on their faces and burnt hair. There was also a man with a wound on his neck."
Putin returns to Moscow
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed that the terrorists behind the attack would be eliminated.
"As you know, today in Moscow we saw a terrible crime against peaceful civilians," Putin said in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk before canceling his engagements and returning to Moscow.
"I am certain our law enforcement agencies will do everything to find and punish these criminals. The terrorists will be eliminated," he added.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov proposed on Monday the death penalty be reinstated as a part of the Russian penitentiary system.
"We have said long ago the country is not ready to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty should be renewed for the most heinous crimes. It's difficult to imagine a crime more horrible than the one that occurred today," Zyuganov told journalists.
In November 2009, a moratorium over the death penalty was prolonged in Russia. Russia de-facto abolished the death penalty in 1996. However, the protocol has not yet been ratified, leaving the death penalty de-jure in the country.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Monday's deadly terrorist attacks on the Moscow subway, calling them "heinous," and expressed his condolences to the Russian people.
"The American people stand united with the people of Russia in opposition to violent extremism and heinous terrorist attacks that demonstrate such disregard for human life, and we condemn these outrageous acts," Obama said in a statement.
Other world leaders also expressed their condolences to victims in messages of compassion and support for Russia.
"We deplore these cowardly attacks in the most resolute manner," a statement by the German Foreign Ministry said. "Nothing can justify these vicious acts."
"France resolutely denounces these terrorist acts and assures Russia in its full support," the French Foreign Ministry said.
International police agency Interpol offered to help Russian authorities investigate the Moscow subway explosions, pledging its "full support and assistance."
"Interpol's Command and Coordination Center at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, France, is closely liaising with its National Central Bureau in Moscow to provide any assistance required," Interpol said on its website.
North Caucasus militants blamed
Russia's top investigator Vladimir Markin said police were working on identifying the two female suicide bombers who carried out the attacks. He added that the women's faces had not suffered in the blasts.
Markin said the second attack had been carried out by a "dark-haired woman" and that "fragments of her body" found at the scene suggested she had had the equivalent of 1.5 kg of TNT strapped to her body.
The head of the Federal Security Services (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, said terrorists from Russia's North Caucasus may have been involved in the attacks.
He also said the bomb at the Lubyanka station exploded with a force of up to 4 kg of TNT. He added that in both cases the bombs were packed with metal nuts and bolts to increase the destructive nature of the blast.
A source in the FSB said an undetonated "shakhid belt" used by suicide bombers had been discovered at the Park Kultury station.
A senior Russian parliamentarian said today's terrorist attacks on the subway should not influence Russia's immigration policy.
Speaking at a news conference at RIA Novosti, the head of the State Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Vasilyev, warned journalists against playing up the "nationalist and religious angle" of stories and advised them to carefully verify sources.
There have already been media reports of attacks on "Muslim looking" people in Moscow. Echo Mosvky radio said two Muslim women were beaten on a train between the Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya metro stations.
A day of mourning has been announced for Tuesday in Moscow.
Russia has been fighting militants in the North Caucasus for almost two decades, including two brutal separatist wars in Chechnya. Analysts suggested that Monday's attacks were revenge for a recent operation in Chechnya that saw the deaths of over 20 radical Islamic fighters.
Aside from Chechnya, militant violence is also a regular occurrence in the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.
The last major terrorist incident to hit Moscow occurred in the fall of 2004, when ten people were killed in a suicide bombing outside a metro station.
The explosion was part of a series of terrorist attacks that also saw 90 people die in two plane bombings and the deaths of over 300 people, many of them children, when Chechen terrorists seized a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. A bomb in the Moscow metro in February 2004 also killed 40 people.
Outside of the volatile North Caucasus, these were the last major terrorist attacks in Russia until last November, when a bomb derailed a Moscow-St. Petersburg express train, killing 27 people.
But Monday's bombings have raised the very real specter of a return to terrorist violence in the Russian heartland.
MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti)