Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 59

According to the latest figures, twenty-three people were killed and more than 120 wounded as the result of three bomb blasts in southern Russia on March 24. The explosions took place when three cars packed with explosives blew up within minutes of each other in the Stavropol Krai resort towns of Mineralniye Vody and Yessentuky and near the village of Adyge-Khabl, in the republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The explosion in Mineralniye Vody, which took place at the city’s busy market and thus claimed the most lives, was reportedly caused by 50 kilograms of TNT that had been placed in the trunk of a Zhiguli car along with metal bearings, bolts and pieces of wire. The blast destroyed seven market stalls and twenty cars parked nearby while blowing windows and damaging the doors and roofs of ten adjacent apartment buildings. The explosion in Yessentuky, which occurred five minutes after the Mineralniye Vody blast, occurred near a local traffic police division office. The bomb, which exploded with a force equivalent to 800 grams of TNT and, unlike the Mineralniye Vody bomb, had no incendiary element, nonetheless injured fourteen people, two of them seriously. The explosion in Karachaevo-Cherkessia took place about a half an hour later, when police were attempting to defuse an explosive device they found in a suspicious car they had stopped earlier. The blast killed two policemen, but, because the vehicle had been moved to a remote area, neither killed nor injured any civilians (Kommersant, Vremya Novostei, March 26).

Yury Baranyuk, head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s press center for the North Caucasus, confirmed last night that the authorities had detained three persons suspected of involvement in the terrorist bombings, and said that there was also reason to believe that the suspects had also been involved in last year’s bombings in the towns of Neveinnomyssk and Pyatigorsk. Likewise, Vsevolod Chernov, Chechnya’s chief prosecutor, said today that the three suspects in the weekend blast had also been involved in the Neveinnomyssk and Pyatigorsk bombings last year and terrorist acts in Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital–a total of eight terrorist acts in all. Chernov did not specify which incidents he was referring to. Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), and Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, whom President Vladimir Putin put in charge of the investigation into the weekend blasts and dispatched to Stavropol Krai, both said they believed the three bombings were orchestrated by Khattab, the Jordanian-born Chechen rebel field commander.

Meanwhile, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov denied involvement in the explosions, and the Chechen rebel website, Kavkaz.org, suggested that they may have been the work of a Chechen seeking revenge for the destruction of his family or of the FSB itself, seeking to foment “popular rage” against the rebels (Russian agencies, Polit.ru, NTV, March 25-26; RTR, ORT, Kavkaz.org, Reuters, AP, March 25).