Two killed in 'terror attack' on Russian power plant
Militants stormed a hydroelectric plant in Russia's volatile Caucasus region Wednesday in a brazen dawn attack, killing two and setting the facility ablaze with a string of blasts, officials said.
The unknown attackers, who also beat up other plant employees, set off the explosions at the station in the North Caucasus's Kabardino-Balkaria region by laying mines in the turbine room. The plant has been shut down as a result.
"A terror act took place at the Baksanskaya hydroelectric power plant," state-run power group RusHydro, which runs the plant, said in a statement.
White smoke billowed from the plant tucked into a forest and masked security officials were seen outside its premises, according to footage aired on national television.
The authorities are battling a Muslim insurgency in the Caucasus, where Moscow fought two bloody wars against Chechen separatists in the 90s and militants have long pledged to destroy key infrastructure sites.
"Spoke to head of FSB (security service) and Kabardino-Balkarian president. Security at strategic sites tightened after today's explosions at the HPP," President Dmitry Medvedev said in a message on Twitter.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in constant contact with Igor Sechin, his powerful deputy in charge of the energy sector, and told him to make sure the incident did not disrupt energy flow in the region, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP.
Regional police said a group of between three and five attackers burst onto the premises of the station located in the village of Atazhukino and killed two police guards and stole their weapons.
"The assailants mined the power plant's turbine room," police said, adding that two turbines were blown up, setting the engine room on fire. The blaze has since been put out.
Moscow-based investigators said two explosions shook the plant's turbine room, while another two explosive devices went off at the transformer vault. One more explosive device has been found and neutralised by the sappers at the scene.
The visibly shaken director of the hydroelectric plant, Valery Shogenov, speaking on television, said the employees had been tied up with duct tape but managed to release themselves.
Alim Balkizov, the plant's spokesman in the region, said the staff employees were tortured and beaten up, with one also receiving knife cuts. The two received medical help and were recovering, he added.
A regional police spokesman, speaking to AFP, said "the assailants or their accomplices" briefly attacked a local police building in the town of Baksan, possibly to deflect attention from the upcoming attack.
Officials said the plant had been halted but there was no risk of a flood.
Security experts said the latest attack underscored just how vulnerable the country's infrastructure was to militant attacks despite the officials' tough talk and hefty investment in the Caucasus.
"It laid bare the vulnerability of the security system in the Caucasus," Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.Ru website with sources in the intelligence agencies, told AFP.
Some said they feared the attack might be a precursor to more disastrous events. "I fear it might be a rehearsal of something more large-scale," senator Alexander Torshin said in comments on Echo of Moscow radio.
Built in the 1930s, the relatively small, 25-megawatt power plant sits on the Baksan river, which flows into the Terek, the Caucasus' most famed river.
The accident is the latest blow to RusHydro. Last August 75 people died in an accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam, a Siberian hydropower station that the state-run power group operates.
That catastrophe was claimed by an Islamist group but authorities insisted technical faults were to blame.
In March, Russia was shaken to the core when two female suicide bombers, both from the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, killed 40 people in a pair of coordinated attacks on the Moscow metro.
© 2010 AFP