MOSCOW // A train carrying hundreds of passengers from Moscow to St Petersburg was derailed by a blast on Friday night, killing at least 26 and injuring scores of others in Russia's deadliest terrorist act in several years outside the turbulent North Caucasus region. A second, less powerful bomb exploded yesterday at the crash site, though no one was injured, the head of Russia's state railway operator said.
The luxury Nevsky Express train derailed in the Tver region, 350km north of Moscow, shortly after 9.30pm on Friday after what witnesses described as a blast on the rails. Investigators said remnants of explosives presumed to have been placed on the rails were found at the scene of the accident. "We are indeed talking about a terrorist act," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the investigative committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, told the Interfax news agency. The blast was measured at around seven kilograms TNT equivalent, Interfax cited authorities as saying.
There were conflicting reports about the number of dead and injured yesterday. Tatyana Golikova, the Russian health minister, said yesterday at least 26 people were killed and that 18 were missing, while around 100 were taken to hospital with injuries. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office, meanwhile, said 30 people had died and that 60 had been hospitalised. State-run Rossiya television yesterday broadcast a recorded telephone call from one of the train's engineers to an emergency dispatcher. Breathing heavily and audibly agitated, the engineer told the dispatcher that there was a blast before the train carrying some 650 passengers and crew went off the rails.
Passenger Igor Pechnikov told state-run Channel One television that he was in the second of the three cars that derailed. "There was a jolt and the car started sliding sharply to the left," Mr Pechnikov said. "I was thrown from my seat and flew halfway down the car." Terrorist acts have continued in recent years in the North Caucasus, where small bands of Islamist guerrilla separatists continue to fight federal and local security forces. Friday's bombing, however, was the first deadly terrorist attack outside the volatile southern Russian region in several years.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, called on citizens to remain calm. "We need there to be no chaos, because the situation is tense as it is," he said in televised comments. Prosecutors have launched a criminal case on counts of terrorism and illegal possession of explosives. The Russian deputy prosecutor general, Alexander Buksman, told Mr Medvedev he had put his "best investigators and forensics experts on the case". Mr Medvedev instructed Mr Buksman to personally keep him informed of developments in the investigation, the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
The attack came just two days after an Ingush man in a Novgorod region court admitted his involvement in an almost identical bombing of the Nevsky Express train in August 2007. The suspect, Maksharip Khidriyev, admitted on Wednesday that he delivered the explosives to the site where they were placed on the rails, RIA-Novosti reported. No one was killed in that attack, although 60 people were injured after the bomb detonated and derailed the train. The suspected mastermind of the 2007 bombing, a former Russian military cadet named Pavel Kosolapov, remains at large.
The Russian news agency baltInfo cited an unidentified source with Russia's Federal Security Service as saying that Mr Kosolapov, who has been linked to Chechen separatists, may have been involved in Friday's attack. "It was an analogous device, but it was planted much better than the previous one," the source was quoted as saying. A statement attributed to a radical ultra-nationalist group called "Combat 18" emerged on the Russian blogosphere yesterday claiming responsibility for the attack, although it was impossible to determine the veracity of the claim.
It is unlikely that the timing of Friday's attack - two days after the critical development in the case of the previous Nevsky Express bombing - was coincidental, said Andrei Soldatov, an independent security expert and editor of the website Agentura.ru. The train is known for shuttling members of Russia's political and business elite back and forth between Moscow and St Petersburg, Mr Soldatov noted.
"Just like the attack two years ago, it's clear the Nevsky Express was chosen because it is the train of officials," Mr Soldatov said. "The goal was clearly to strike at people connected to the powers-that-be." While it is too early to determine a definitive motive, the attack was probably carried out either by militant separatists from North Caucasus region or radical right-wing youth, who have been implicated in numerous violent crimes in recent years, Mr Soldatov said.
"Nationalist groups have been getting increasingly sophisticated technologically in recent years," Mr Soldatov said. "Two years ago they were just using knives, now they're starting to use guns and attack law enforcement officials." email@example.com