Suicide Bombers Kill at Least 46 at Chechen Government Offices (NY TIMES) By MICHAEL WINES MOSCOW, RUSSIA 12/28/02)
NEW YORK TIMES
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MOSCOW, Dec. 27 Suicide bombers plowed two explosive-laden vehicles
through a military perimeter today and blew up the headquarters of
Chechnya´s pro-Russian government in Grozny, killing at least 46
people and wounding scores more in two terrific blasts.
It was the deadliest bombing inside Chechnya in more than three years
of war, and it sent yet another powerful signal that militants
seeking to split the semiautonomous Chechen region from Russia are
far from being subdued.
The last signal came barely two months ago, when Chechen separatists
took control of a Moscow theater and terrorized hundreds of hostages
for several days. The government raid that ended that crisis resulted
in the deaths of nearly 130 civilians.
The regional government office in Grozny, the Chechen capital which
was opened to great fanfare barely 20 months ago as a beacon of
political stability was among the most protected buildings in the
Russian television showed images today of civilians and soldiers,
many soaked in blood, stumbling or being carried from the wreckage of
the four-story concrete building. A huge crater near the entrance,
more than a dozen feet deep, marked the site of the explosions.
Tonight Russia´s Emergencies Ministry put the death toll at 46.
Another 70 people were reported to have been taken to hospitals, at
least 20 of them critically injured. But an Emergencies Ministry
official said the number of injured could reach 200, because the
blast had destroyed a nearby two-story building, containing a canteen
and government offices, as well as the main building.
Wounded government workers were still being removed from the canteen
and other areas tonight, and three cranes were lifting concrete
rubble in search of victims.
"We do not know so far how many people are still under the wreckage,"
Chechnya´s acting prosecutor, Vladimir Kravchenko, told the Interfax
The region´s first deputy finance minister, Stanislav Tereshchuk,
said the second building was crowded with ministry workers who had
been reconciling the Chechen government´s books on one of the last
working days before New Year´s Day, Russia´s biggest holiday.
"I didn´t hear the second blast," Mr. Tereshchuk, clearly dazed, said
in a television interview. "The first one was too strong. Our
information and technical section room caved in. I am sure one of my
people was there. We had just hired him."
The head of Chechnya´s civil administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, and the
new prime minister, Mikhail Babich, were away from the building when
the blast occurred.
In Grozny, a rubble-strewn wasteland since Russian jets destroyed it
in late 1999, Hospital No. 9, the main hospital treating victims of
the blast, was without power. Interfax reported that doctors were
working by candlelight and flashlight.
President Vladimir V. Putin met tonight with the head of the Federal
Security Service, the domestic successor to the K.G.B., for a report
on the bombing.
The bombers, traveling in a large truck and an off-road vehicle,
struck shortly before 2:30 p.m., barreling through the last gate of a
heavily fortified perimeter surrounding the government headquarters.
The blasts devastated the main building blowing out all of its
windows and extensively damaging its front and largely destroyed
the adjacent canteen.
The offices of the regional prosecutor and the Federal Security
Service were also damaged.
It is not clear how the bombers gained access to the government
complex, which was deliberately set on a barren stretch of land and
divided into sectors walled off by concrete fences.
The TVS television network reported tonight that drivers of heavy
trucks required a special pass to enter central Grozny. The drivers
would have had to pass through two checkpoints at the government
compound before reaching the last gate, which raised the prospect
that a security breakdown was responsible for the disaster.
The government-run ORT television reported tonight that the heavy
truck bore military license plates.
Mr. Kadyrov told Interfax that officials would search for security
lapses that might have permitted the bombing, but he despaired of its
doing much good. "We have done this so many times, and what´s the
use?" he said. "Terrorists still rule in Grozny."
Russian troops sealed off all roads around Grozny and mounted a
search for organizers of the attack.
"This is the latest monstrous atrocity by the terrorists, those very
same people who staged the explosions in Moscow, Volgodonsk, Buinaksk
and Grozny," Mr. Putin´s human rights representative in Chechnya,
Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, said tonight on ORT. "These are people who
have openly declared war on their own people. They are, of course, in
their death throes."
Mr. Sultygov was referring to bombings in late 1999 mostly unsolved
but ascribed to Chechen militants which heavily influenced Mr.
Putin´s decision to send the Russian Army into Chechnya for the
second time in five years.
Russia effectively lost the first war, giving Chechnya de facto
independence. Moscow has claimed victory in the second, saying it has
reduced the guerrillas to a handful of scattered and hunted bands.
The Kremlin recently released a draft of a new Chechen constitution
as a prelude to a spring referendum on forming a new government.
But Russia´s military grip on Chechnya has remained shaky at best.
Russian soldiers die weekly in ambushes, and Chechen militants
effectively have the run of Grozny at night. The blast today, the
fourth major strike against Russia´s presence in Chechnya in five
months, suggests that militants are increasingly resorting to
headline-grabbing acts of violence to press their cause.
More than 40 Chechen militants seized a theater in the heart of
Moscow in October, provoking a costly rescue attempt by Russian
forces that left the militants as well as nearly 130 theatergoers and
Another 121 people died in August after guerrillas shot down an
overloaded military transport helicopter over the main Russian
military base outside Grozny. Twenty-two died in October when a bomb
destroyed a Grozny police station.
The military warned last month that suicide bombers were planning a
series of strikes in Grozny and central Russia, with their principal
targets likely to be government buildings, including the one hit
Indeed, the same building was bombed in September of last year, less
than five months after it opened, when an explosive device left in a
women´s restroom went off, killing a cleaning woman. In July
investigators found tons of saltpeter and a bomb in a garage about
1,000 feet from the building enough, police officials said then, to
level the complex.
Tonight Mr. Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya´s civil administration,
called the latest bombing the work of militants tied to Aslan
Maskhadov, a onetime Chechen president who is commander of the
Chechen guerrillas, at least in name. A spokesman for Mr. Maskhadov,
Akhmed Zakayev, denied that tonight.
Others blamed Islamic extremists, some of them foreigners, who have
sought to reinvent Chechnya´s separatist movement as an Islamic
While suicide bombings have been a hallmark of Islamic extremism
elsewhere, one Moscow expert on Russian regional problems and the
Russian military, Dmitri Trenin, said labeling those responsible for
the explosions might not be so simple. "Islamic extremism is part of
it," said Mr. Trenin, a scholar at the Moscow Center of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace. "Part of it is separatism. It´s a
deadly cocktail that you have out there."
He said major acts of sabotage like this might grow more common, in
Chechnya and other parts of Russia, because they had proved to be the
one means of striking at the Russian presence against which there was
"Russia, as we have seen, cannot even seal its capital from such acts
of terrorism," he said. "On the other hand, these same forces cannot
hope to drive Russia out. Unfortunately, I think we are stuck with
what we have now." (Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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