Suicide bomber kills 15 at Russian market
At least 15 people were killed on Thursday and over 70 wounded when suicide bombing rocked a crowded central market in the Russian Caucasus city of Vladikavkaz, officials said.
Officials said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber who drove up to a local market in an explosives-packed car. They warned the death toll was likely to go up as many people were in a critical condition.
The bombing created carnage around the market, with several cars reduced to wreckage by the blast and charred corpses laid out on stretchers, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.
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.
Maria Gatsoyeva, a spokeswoman for the regional investigators, said at least 15 people were killed and 77 people wounded. Russian investigators opened a probe into an "act of terror".
"A terrorist suicide bomber in a car parked at the entrance to the central market of Vladikavkaz ignited an explosive charge at 11:20 am (0720 GMT)," the investigative committee of Russian prosecutors said in a statement.
Taimuraz Mamsurov, the head of the North Ossetia region, told the ITAR-TASS news agency "the headless body of the presumed terrorist" was found in the car, which exploded opposite the central market.
The blast created panic that a second explosion would follow soon, said officials. But Gatsoyeva said that authorities had thoroughly checked the scene and a second bomb had not been found.
"The people who do this, these are people without a soul, without a heart," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in his first reaction to the bombing.
"They have nothing holy. It is our common duty to fight these criminals," he said at a meeting with Russian Muslim leaders to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
He said that the militants aimed to sow enmity between Russians. "We do not have the right to allow them to do this," he added.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered his envoy for the North Caucasus region, Alexander Khloponin, to urgently fly to Vladikavkaz, the Kremlin said.
Gatsoyeva, the spokeswoman for the regional investigators, said the blast, which shattered windows of nearby buildings, had been caused by explosives weighing 30-40 kilogrammes of TNT equivalent.
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.
It is the only majority-Christian region in Russia's largely Muslim North Caucasus and neighbours the Muslim region of Ingushetia, which has been beset by deadly attacks over the last months.
Although it has seen increasing unrest over the past years, North Ossetia has traditionally been more stable than the Muslim regions of the North Caucasus.
Separately, officials indicated Thursday that rebels had aimed to blow up the Irganaiskaya power plant in Dagestan, the second-largest power plant in the Russian Caucasus.
Elena Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for major power producer RusHydro that runs the plant, told AFP that the explosive device had been found at the plant following a fire on Tuesday night.
It will take three months to repair and re-launch the plant, she added.
Russia has been on a state of high alert after the double bombings carried out by two female suicide bombers on the Moscow metro on March 29 killed 40 and wounded more than 100.
The Kremlin fought two wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya in the 1990s but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan.
© 2010 AFP