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Russian Suicide Bomb Spurs Terror Alert as Putin Meet Muftis

A man looks at a computer screen displaying a TV broadcast of video footage of the blast on a bus in Volgograd. Source: AFP via Getty Images
A man looks at a computer screen displaying a TV broadcast of video footage of the blast on a bus in Volgograd. Source: AFP via Getty Images

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Russian investigators probed yesterday’s suicide bombing that killed six bus passengers in Volgograd as the southern region was placed on high alert hours before President Vladimir Putin met Muslim clerics.

The suspected female suicide bomber arrived from the capital of the mainly Muslim region of Dagestan, disembarking from a bus that was en route to the Russian capital about an hour before she blew herself up in Volgograd, the Investigative Committee in Moscow said on its website today.

“We know the footprint of these people, criminals, terrorists who have killed many people in Russia, including Islamic clerics,” Putin said at a meeting of the State Council in Ufa, the capital of the predominantly Muslim Bashkortostan republic between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River.

The bomber’s partner, an ethnic Russian Muslim convert accused of involvement in previous terror attacks, is suspected of preparing yesterday’s strike, the Kommersant newspaper reported, citing unidentified law-enforcement officials. The regional government set the terrorist threat level at “yellow,” the second highest, meaning authorities have reliable information further attacks are possible.

Nationalist Riots

The bombing is one of the biggest terror attacks in Russia since a suicide bombing claimed by Islamic militants killed at least 37 people at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in 2011. Putin discussed measures to prevent nationalist conflicts in Russia at the meeting in Ufa. The murder of an ethnic Russian in Moscow this month provoked the biggest nationalist riots in almost three years. Police have detained a suspect from Azerbaijan.

“Some people are using extremist trends not customary for Muslims to weaken our state, provoke artificial conflicts and separatism in certain regions,” Putin said.

Unidentified attackers late last night smashed the windows and hurled two Molotov cocktails into a prayer hall of a private home belonging to a Muslim leader in Volgograd, the Interior Ministry said. The fire was put out by the cleric, the ministry said.

Volgograd, once known as Stalingrad, is located less than 700 kilometers from Sochi, the Black Sea resort that will host next year’s Winter Olympics. Russian federal troops have fought two wars after the collapse of the Soviet Union against separatists in nearby regions of the North Caucasus and violence by Islamic militants represents a continuing threat.

Death Toll

The Investigative Committee identified the six casualties of the explosion and said the bomb had the force equivalent to 500 grams to 600 grams of TNT. Volgograd’s airport was evacuated today after a report that a bag was left unattended, RIA Novosti reported. Thirty people injured in the blast remain hospitalized, according to Russian state television broadcaster Rossiya 24.

The Investigative Committee said 50 eyewitness and bystanders have been questioned in connection with the attack. Authorities were interrogating the suspected suicide bomber’s mother in Dagestan, the regional Dagestan capital on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, state-run RIA reported, citing unidentified local security officials.

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused in April’s Boston Marathon bombing, were immigrants of Chechen descent who had moved to the U.S. from Dagestan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net; Ilya Arkhipov in Ufa, Russia at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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