#1 - JRL 7179
Chechen Truck Bomb Kills 41, Wounds 110
May 12, 2003
By YURI BAGROV
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) - A truck laden with explosives blew up Monday outside a government compound in Chechnya, reducing eight buildings to rubble and killing at least 41 people. Russia's president said the attack was aimed at derailing a political resolution of the 3 1/2-year-old war.
Three suicide-bombers, including one woman, carried out the attack, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky told the ITAR-Tass news agency.
The explosion, which had the force of at least 1.3 tons of TNT, wounded more than 110 people, 57 of them critically, said Maj.-Gen. Ruslan Avtayev. Nearly all the dead were civilians, including six children under the age of 12.
Most victims were government employees who had just returned to work after May holidays and local residents taking advantage of the first working day after a long holiday period to settle government-related business, emergency officials said.
The blast destroyed a regional government administration building in Znamenskoye and severely damaged the two-story office of the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency leading Russia's campaign in Chechnya.
Six homes, housing several families each, also were leveled in the blast, which left a crater 16 feet deep and 33 feet wide.
Russian television broadcast footage of piles of rubble where buildings once stood and the gutted shells of others. One building had its walls blown off to reveal the furniture inside. Russia's TVS said the blast knocked out electricity and water for the whole town.
The military blocked off the area, where rescue workers searched through debris and anxious residents crowded trying to get news of their loved ones. One woman said her sister and four nephews were missing; another man frantically hunted through the rubble for a missing toddler.
No one claimed responsibility, but officials immediately blamed Chechen rebels, who are severely outnumbered and outgunned but continue to inflict daily casualties on federal forces.
``All such actions are aimed at one thing: stopping the process of the settlement of the situation in Chechnya, the process of political settlement,'' Russian President Vladimir Putin told Cabinet members in televised comments. ``We cannot and will not allow anything of the kind.''
Putin ordered the Prosecutor General's Office and the Federal Security Service to report to him on an investigation plan.
Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration, said the attack appeared to be an effort by rebels to ``re-animate themselves in the eyes of the republic's population and overseas clients. ... They are trying to prove, at any cost, that they are still strong,'' the Interfax news agency reported.
Chechen voters in March overwhelmingly approved a Kremlin-promoted constitution that cements the region's status as part of Russia. Moscow, which has refused to negotiate with rebel leaders, has called the referendum a key step on the road to peace, touting it as evidence the situation in Chechnya is stabilizing.
But Monday's blast underlined the violence that continues to roil Chechnya. In December, a truck-bomb at the headquarters of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration in the capital, Grozny, killed at least 70 people. The truck had passed through numerous checkpoints and the blast exposed the still-fragile state of security even in the most heavily guarded part of the war-shattered region.
Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev, speaking on state-run television, said Monday a truck carrying explosives blew up after it was halted at a security barrier about 30 yards from a concrete wall that protects the government buildings.
However, the police chief in the Nadterechny district, Usman Tunguzbiyev, said the truck crashed through the barrier and soldiers standing guard opened fire.
Northern Chechnya is considered the most stable district. It was the first area to come under the control of Russian forces that entered the republic in 1999, starting the second war in a decade.