Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 166

An explosion which destroyed a nine-story apartment building in southeast Moscow late on September 8 was probably a terrorist act, at least according to a number of Russian officials. No definitive official conclusion has been announced on the cause of the blast, which killed at least thirty-two people, including three children, injured more than 150 and buried more than fifty under the ruins. But Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Emergency Situations, said that while investigators initially believed the explosion–which various investigators estimated was the equivalent of 200 or 400 grams of TNT–had been caused by a gas leak, they later concluded that the explosion did not “look like gas” (NTV, September 9). The RIA Novosti news agency, citing the public relations department of the Federal Security Service (FSB), reported yesterday that the explosion was caused by a large quantity of “explosive substance or pyrotechnical compound” (RTR, September 9).

For his part, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov called the blast a terrorist act, adding that Islamic terrorists taking revenge “for their first defeat in Dagestan” may have been responsible for it. Likewise, Vladimir Minaev, head of the Prosecutor General’s Office’s main investigative department, said that investigators were looking into a possible connection to the blast last weekend at an apartment building housing army personnel in the Dagestani city of Bunaiksk. More than sixty people died in that blast (Russian agencies, September 9; The Moscow Times, September 10).

The Interfax news agency reported that an anonymous caller with a strong Caucasian accent said that the Moscow and Buinaksk blasts were in response to Russia’s military bombing of villages in Dagestan and Chechnya. The head of the Moscow FSB’s press office, Sergei Bogdanov, however, noted that such claims of credit could be made by Chechen guerrillas even if they were not responsible, or by others trying to destabilize society. Earlier this week, the Moscow correspondent of Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio received a telephone warning that there would be three explosions in Moscow in revenge for the bombing of Chechen villages by the Russian army. On August 31, a bomb explosion destroyed a video arcade at the Manezh shopping Mall in central Moscow (see the Monitor, September 1). One person died and forty were injured in that blast.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Dagestan fear the Moscow blast will lead to new terrorist acts in Dagestan and have stepped up police patrols there (RTR, NTV, ORT, September 9; Moscow Times, September 10).