AT least 14 people were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up on a packed trolleybus in Volgograd a day after a deadly attack on the southern Russian city’s train station, raising fresh concerns about security at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
As President Vladimir Putin ordered security stepped up across the country, with a special regime to be imposed in Volgograd, investigators said the bombings were almost certainly linked.
The twin suicide attacks on Volgograd have stunned Russia and troubled the authorities as people prepare for mass New Year celebrations. At least 17 people died in Sunday’s attack, blamed on a female suicide bomber.
The force of yesterday’s blast destroyed the number 15A trolleybus, which was packed with morning commuters and was reduced to wreckage with only its roof and front remaining.
Health Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai told Russian state television that 14 people had been killed and 28 wounded.
“The explosives were detonated by a male suicide bomber, fragments of whose body have been found and taken for genetic analysis to establish his identity,” said a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin. He said about 4kg of TNT equivalent had been used in the blast and the explosives were identical to those used in the train station bombing.
“This confirms the theory that the two attacks are linked. It is possible that they were prepared in the same place,” he added.
The new attack will further heighten fears about security at the Games in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, 690km southwest of Volgograd, which begin on February 7. While terrorists may find it hard to get to the tightly guarded Olympic facilities, the bombings have shown they can hit civilian targets elsewhere in Russia with shocking ease.
Russia is already preparing to impose a “limited access” security cordon around Sochi from January 7, which will check all traffic and ban all non-resident cars from a wide area around the city.
State television said Volgograd commuters were going to work on foot in fear of a new attack.
The search for the perpetrators of the blast is expected to focus on Russia’s largely Muslim North Caucasus region where Islamist militants have for years been fighting the Russian security forces.
Doku Umarov, the leader of militants seeking to impose an Islamist state throughout Russia’s North Caucasus, has ordered rebels to target civilians outside the region and “do their utmost to derail” the Sochi Olympics, which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors”.
Moscow security chief Alexei Mayarov said security would be stepped up in the capital ahead of New Year’s Eve, the biggest holiday of the year in Russia and traditionally marked by mass outdoor gatherings.
Reports said Russia’s second city of St Petersburg had cancelled its planned celebratory fireworks display.
Militant strikes have become part of daily life in the North Caucasus, but Volgograd, a city of more than one million people in the Russian heartland, has not been targeted before this year.
On October 21, a female suicide bomber with links to Islamists killed six people on a crowded bus.
The city, known as Stalingrad in the Soviet era, is of huge importance to Russians as the scene of one of the key battles of World War II that led to the defeat of invading Nazi forces.
The city also serves as a key transport hub for southern Russia, with numerous bus routes linking it to the volatile North Caucasus.
Yelena Isinbayeva, double Olympic pole vault champion and Volgograd’s best known resident, told ITAR-TASS she felt “terrible, simply terrible” after the attacks.
The blasts are the deadliest in Russia since a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport killed 37 people in January 2011.
Investigators said the suspected female suicide bomber set off her charge after being stopped by a police officer at the metal detectors of the central entrance to the station.
Unconfirmed news reports identified the bomber as a Dagestani woman, Oksana Aslanova, a so-called “Black Widow” who had been married to two different Islamists killed in battles with federal forces.
However, amid conflicting reports, the Investigative Committee said they were examining a theory that the explosion could also have been set off by a male.
The Interfax news agency quoted law enforcement agents as saying CCTV footage indicated that the bomber was a man, and that a torn male finger ringed by the pin from a hand grenade was found on the site of the explosion.
Militant strikes have become part of daily life in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.
But the Volgograd blasts will be a particular concern to the authorities as the bomber struck a city of more than one million people in the Russian heartland.
Doku Umarov, leader of militants seeking to impose an Islamist state throughout Russia’s North Caucasus, has ordered rebels to target civilians outside the region and disrupt the Games.
Sunday’s blast was the deadliest in Russia since a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport killed 37 in January 2011.
Investigators said the suicide bomber – believed to be a woman – set off her charge after being stopped by a police officer at the metal detectors of the central entrance to the station, packed with people travelling to celebrate the New Year.
Russia’s Interior Ministry said it was stepping up security at all the nation’s main train stations and airports. The Volgograd government has also introduced a heightened terror alert level in the region for the next fortnight.
Female suicide bombers are often referred to in Russia as “black widows” – women who seek to avenge the deaths of their family members in the fighting by targeting Russian civilians. They have repeatedly struck Russian targets during Mr Putin’s 14-year rule, including twin attacks that killed more than 90 people on passenger jets in 2004.
The International Olympics Committee gave its condolences over Sunday’s bombing, but said it was confident of Russia’s security preparation for the Games.
“At the Olympics, security is the responsibility of the local authorities, and we have no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task,” it said in a statement.
Russian authorities have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and sweeping security measures seen at an international sports event.
Anyone wanting to attend the Games will have to buy a ticket online from the organisers and obtain a “spectator pass” for access. Doing so will require providing passport details and contacts that will allow the authorities to screen all visitors and check their identities upon arrival. The security zone created around Sochi stretches about 100km along the Black Sea coast and up to 40km inland.
Russian forces include special troops to patrol the forested mountains towering over the resort, drones to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speed boats to patrol the coast.
The security plan includes a ban on cars from outside the zone from a month before the Games begin until a month after they end.