Russia mourns bombing victims as death toll rises to 17

10th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The death toll from the deadliest militant strike for months in Russia's troubled Caucasus rose to 17 on Friday as authorities hunted the masterminds of the suicide bombing and North Ossetia observed a day of mourning.

A suicide car bomber killed at least 16 people and injured more than 100 Thursday afternoon at a busy central market in the city of Vladikavkaz in the Caucasus region of North Ossetia.

One more person died overnight, said regional health minister Vladimir Selivanov. "I have a list of 17 dead," Selivanov told AFP.

Of the worst injured, 11 were airlifted to Moscow and another four critically wounded remained in Vladikavkaz.

Officials warned the death toll was likely to go up as many of the injured, including a three-year old boy, were in a critical 0condition. The boy's 18-month old brother died of his injuries on Thursday.

Authorities said the blast was triggered by a suicide bomber who drove up to a busy market in an explosives-packed car and whose headless body was later discovered.

The bomb weighing 30-40 kilogrammes (66-88 pounds) of TNT equivalent was stuffed with metal bolts and metal bars and created carnage around the market just before lunch, reducing several cars to wreckage and sowing panic that a second blast would follow soon.

Officials later said the second bomb had not been found.

The shrapnel-littered, bloodstained market remained cordonned off Friday as investigators continued their probe of the bombing and grieving locals were bringing asters and carnations to the scene of the tragedy under a drizzling rain.

Workers worked through the night to re-glaze windows in a nearby school shattered by the blast and while classes were not officially cancelled many schoolchildren stayed at home.

Officials declared Friday a day of mourning in North Ossetia as flags at government buildings flew at half mast and television entertainment progammes were cancelled.

Located to the north of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, North Ossetia is the only majority-Christian region in Russia's largely Muslim North Caucasus.

The market attack came as Russia's Muslim regions were preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, leading some officials to announce the bombing was designed to sow enmity between Muslims and Christians.

The head of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, said Thursday evening that three people had been detained on suspicion of involvement in the attack.

The attack in the capital of the mainly Christian region of North Ossetia was the latest strike to hit the Russian Caucasus, plagued by an Islamist insurgency that has claimed scores of lives in the past months.

On Wednesday, President Dmitry Medvedev vowed to do everything to track down "the monsters" behind the bombing, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the organizers of the bombing "are people without a soul, without a heart."

The Kremlin calls the Caucasus unrest its biggest domestic problem and the bombing is the latest blow to efforts by the Putin government to bring prosperity to the violence-torn region by enticing investors there.

In July, Putin announced an ambitious economic drive pledging to turn the impoverished region into a land of world-class skiing resorts and top tourist attractions and dismissing Islamist militants as mere criminal gangs.

North Ossetia lies at the heart of Russia's troubled Northern Caucasus region, north of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia over which Moscow and Tbilisi fought a war in August 2008.

Although North Ossetia has seen increasing unrest over the past years, North Ossetia has traditionally been more stable than the Muslim regions of the North Caucasus.

Russia has been on high alert after the double bombings carried out by two female suicide bombers on the Moscow metro on March 29 that killed 40 and wounded more than 100.

© 2010 AFP

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