VOLGOGRAD, December 30 (RIA Novosti) – A fatal bomb explosion ripped apart a trolleybus in Volgograd on Monday morning, killing at least 14 people and injuring 28, in the second terrorist attack in the southern Russian city in less than 24 hours.
Several of the wounded, who officials said included a six-month-old infant, are in serious condition.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that investigators believe a male suicide bomber carried out the attack, which he said was linked to another fatal bombing in the city on Sunday afternoon.
Authorities believe the first explosion, which killed 17 people and injured more than 40 at the Volgograd-1 railway station, was also the work of a suicide bomber.
Markin said that remains of both suspected bombers, which were recovered at the scenes, are undergoing DNA testing.
Monday’s blast marks the third such attack in Volgograd in two months, and comes just weeks before Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in February in the city of Sochi.
The bomb detonated in a trolleybus, packed with morning commuters, at about 8:10 a.m. (0410 GMT), the Investigative Committee said.
Television footage filmed at the scene near a market in the city’s Dzerzhinsky district showed debris strewn across the street around the blackened shell of the trolleybus, its roof blown outward by the explosion.
“I left the house and heard a loud bang and screams of people,” an eyewitness told television channel Rossiya-24.
“I saw what had happened. At first I didn’t realize that it was a trolleybus, it was completely destroyed. Everything was blown out, not only the glass but even the walls. People ran.”
State television said the force of the blast also blew out the windows of the nearby houses.
Local resident Sergei Stukalov told RIA Novosti that passengers began getting off buses and trams and walked to work after hearing about the attack.
Officials were forced to quell rumors of additional bombings after reports appeared on some social media pages about other explosions in the city.
“It’s panic,” said regional Interior Ministry spokeswoman Svetlana Smolyaninova.
Alarm briefly spread to Moscow, when reports emerged that Red Square had been briefly evacuated after a woman dropped a bag on the ground and ran away. Russian tabloid LifeNews said that police caught and detained the woman, who it claimed was mentally ill.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered a tightening of security throughout the country after the attacks. He met with the heads of the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry on Monday, sending FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov to Volgograd to help handle the aftermath.
Putin also asked for daily reports from the National Anti-Terrorism Committee on measures to bolster security in Volgograd, a committee spokesman told journalists.
World leaders and organizations condemned the bombings. The head of the European Union’s delegation in Russia, Vygaudas Usackas, said that he was shocked to learn of the second attack, adding: “I condemn the latest bombing in strongest possible terms and trust that organizers will be brought to justice.”
Putin has expressed his condolences to families of the blast victims, but has yet to make a more detailed address about the attacks.
Authorities in Volgograd on Sunday announced three days of mourning at the start of New Year in memory of the victims of the first attack. The government will also pay compensation to relatives of the victims.
Families of each person killed will receive 1 million rubles ($305,000), and between 200,000 to 400,000 rubles ($6,000 to $12,200) will be paid to the families of injured people, Emergency Situations Ministry head Vladimir Puchkov said.
Terrorist incidents have persisted in southern Russia despite the authorities' efforts to step up security precautions ahead of the Olympics, which open on February 7 and are a major prestige project for Putin and Russia.
Sochi is located about 430 miles (690 kilometers) from Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, which remains best remembered for the grueling siege it endured during World War II.
Six people were killed and 37 injured in another terrorist attack in Volgograd in late October, when a bomb carried by a young woman from the southern republic of Dagestan went off while she was traveling on a crowded commuter bus.
On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the city of Pyatigorsk, which is 530 kilometers south of Volgograd and 270 kilometers east of Sochi.
The cities blighted by the latest attacks are located in and near the North Caucasus, a volatile multiethnic region that suffers frequent attacks on officials, police and civilians by local Islamist militant groups.
The violence is rooted in a separatist struggle in the unruly republic of Chechnya in the early 1990s, which has evolved into an Islamist insurgency that has spread to neighboring predominantly Muslim republics, particularly Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Most of the militants responsible for terrorist attacks in Russia over the last decade – including female suicide bombers who have taken part in 20 attacks claiming at least 780 lives since June 2000 – have come from Dagestan.
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