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Suicide bomber targets Russian railway station, killing at least 16

Female suicide bomber targets railway station in southern Russia's Volgograd.

Russian police inspect the explosion site outside Volgograd railway station.  EPA
Russian police inspect the explosion site outside Volgograd railway station. EPA

MOSCOW // At least 16 people were killed and scores were wounded on Sunday as a female suicide bomber struck at a railway station in southern Russia, heightening concern about terrorism ahead of February’s Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said the suicide bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just behind the station’s main entrance.

“When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device,” Mr Markin said. He added that the bomb contained about 10 kilograms of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel.

Mr Markin said that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed.

He put the death toll at 16. Russia’s health ministry said about 50 people were injured, and Mr Markin said 34 were hospitalised, many in grave condition.

Images caught by a security camera facing the station, broadcast by Rossiya 24 television, showed the moment of explosion: a bright orange flash inside the station behind the main gate followed by plumes of smoke.

“Pieces of flesh mixed with shards of glass and smoke billowed from inside, I didn’t even understand at first what was going on,” said Svetlana Zabotko, a local resident who witnessed the blast.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Volgograd, but it came several months after the Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.

Volgograd, 900 kilometres south of Moscow, lies about 650km north-east of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.

Suicide bombings and other attacks linked to Islamic rebels roaming the North Caucasus have rocked Russia for years. The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the Olympics, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, and the organisers have pledged to make the Sochi Games the “safest Olympics in history”.

The Interfax news agency said that the suspected bomber’s head was found at the site of explosion, which would allow security agencies to quickly identify her.

Female suicide bombers, many of whom were widows or sisters of rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia and are often referred to as “black widows”.

In October, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Officials said that attacker came from the province of Dagestan, which has become the centre of an Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region after two separatist wars in Chechnya. As in Sunday’s blast, her bomb was rigged with shrapnel that caused severe injuries.

On Friday, three people were killed when a car rigged with explosives blew up on a street in Pyatigorsk, the centre of a federal administrative district intended to stabilise the North Caucasus region.

Following Sunday’s explosion, the interior ministry ordered police to beef up patrols at railway stations and other transport facilities across Russia.

Russia in past years has seen a series of terror attacks on buses, trains and airplanes, some carried out by suicide bombers.

Twin bombings on the Moscow subway in March 2010 by female suicide bombers killed 40 people and wounded more than 120. In January 2011, a male suicide bomber struck Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 37 people and injuring more than 180.

Mr Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for the 2010 and 2011 bombings, ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets during the mass street protests against Mr Putin in the winter of 2011-12. He reversed that order in July, urging his men to “do their utmost to derail” the Sochi Olympics which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors”.

Russian authorities have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and sweeping security measures ever seen at an international sports event.

The security zone created around Sochi stretches approximately 100km along the Black Sea coast and up to 40km inland. Security forces include special troops equipped for patrolling the forested mountains towering over the resort, drones to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speed boats to patrol the coast.

* Associated Press