Blast at Airport in Moscow a Terrorist Act

Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

A man wounded in a blast was carried away at Domodedovo airport in Moscow on Monday. More Photos »

 

 

January 24, 2011

Medvedev Calls Blast at Airport in Moscow a Terrorist Act

MOSCOW — A bomber strode into the international arrivals hall at Moscow’s busiest airport on Monday afternoon and set off an enormous explosion, witnesses and Russian officials said, leaving bodies strewn in a smoke-filled terminal while bystanders scrambled to get the wounded out on baggage carts.
Russian authorities said at least 34 people were killed and 168 injured in the attack. The Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said in televised remarks that the blast was an act of terrorism and ordered the police to track down the perpetrators.
Investigators said the attack was likely carried out by a male suicide bomber, and that authorities were attempting to identify him.
In the moments after the blast, the smoke was so thick that it was difficult to count the dead, eyewitnesses said. Arriving passengers stepped into the hall to the sight of blood on the floor and bodies being loaded onto stretchers. Ambulances sped away crowded with three or four patients apiece, bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to their arms and legs.
The blast hit Domodedovo Airport, a facility that is a showcase for modern Russia, just as Mr. Medvedev prepared to woo foreign investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Medvedev promptly postponed his departure to manage the aftermath of the attack.
It is bound to further shake a country already on edge after a nationalist demonstration turned violent in mid-December, inflaming relations between ethnic Russians and migrants from the north Caucasus, a predominately Muslim region in the south of Russia.
Though there was no indication Monday evening of who was behind the blast, Moscow’s recurrent terror attacks have nearly always been traced to militants in the North Caucasus. The most recent came in March, when two women from Dagestan strapped on explosive belts and detonated themselves on the city’s subway, killing more than 40 people.
Doku Umarov, a rebel leader, took responsibility for that attack, posting a video in which he warned Russians that “the war will come to your streets, and you will feel it in your own lives and on your own skin.” Such attacks have typically strengthened the influence of Russian security forces and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin by firmly establishing security as the country’s top priority.
Mr. Putin appeared on television on Monday night, ordering the health minister to provide aid to all the bombing victims, visiting clinics one by one, if necessary, he said.
The bomber apparently entered the international arrivals terminal from outside, a witness said, advancing to the blue tape where taxi drivers and relatives wait to greet arriving passengers and setting off the explosion at 4:32 p.m. local time. The area is open to the general public, said Yelena Galanova, an airport spokesman, according to the Interfax news service.
Artyom Zhilenkov, who was in that crowd, said he was standing about 10 yards away from a short, dark-complexioned man with a suitcase — the bomber, he believes. They were awaiting flights from Italy, Tajikistan and Germany. Mr. Zhilenkov, a taxi driver, spoke to reporters several hours after the blast, wearing a track suit dotted with blood and small ragged holes.
“How did I manage to save myself? I don’t know,” he said. “The people behind me on my left and right were blown apart. Maybe because of that.”
Among the wounded were French and Italian citizens, according to the Health and Social Development Ministry. Thirty-one people died at the site of the explosion, one in an ambulance, and three in hospitals, the health ministry said.
Yuri, another witness, told Russia’s state-run First Channel TV that the shock wave was strong enough to throw him to the floor and blow his hat away. After that the hall filled with thick smoke and part of the ceiling collapsed, said Aleksei Spiridonov, who works at an auto rental booth. He said most of the victims were waiting to greet passengers.
“They pushed them away on baggage carts,” Mr. Spiridonov said. “They were wheeling them out on whatever they could find.”
Many of the victims suffered terrible wounds to their faces, limbs and bodies, witnesses said.
“One person came out and fell,” Olga Yaholnikova told RenTV television. “And there was a man with half of his body torn away.”
Investigators were working on Monday evening to determine the power and type of explosive used in the attack. Nikolai Sintsov, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, said there are shrapnel holes in the arrival hall, but no shrapnel has yet been retrieved.
In televised remarks, Mr. Medvedev said that although Russia has imposed waves of new security procedures in the wake of terror attacks, they are not always implemented. He ordered police to boost security at all airports and on public transportation.
The airport, southeast of the capital, is Russia’s largest airline hub, with more than 20 million passengers passing through last year. Domodedovo was the site of a previous terror attack in August of 2004, when two Chechen suicide bombers boarded separate planes there, killing themselves and 88 others in midair. The attack exposed holes in security, since the two bombers, both women, had been detained shortly before boarding, but were released by a police supervisor. The authorities have since worked to tighten security there.
The airport remained open on Monday evening, and passengers continued to flow through the hall where the bomb had exploded. Gerald Zapf, who landed shortly after the blast, said his airplane circled the airport several times before landing, and passengers were forced to wait on board for some time before they were allowed to disembark.
When they finally made it into the airport, he said, he saw nothing of the carnage that had taken place, because it was hidden by large sheets of blue plastic. Meanwhile, transportation officials had ordered “100 percent control of passengers and visitors and their baggage, including their hand baggage,” resulting in long, snaking lines and shoving matches at the airport’s entrances.
Monday’s explosion in Moscow pointed to the continuing fascination with air travel for militants, as well as the difficulty of carrying out an attack aboard a jet, said Stephen A. Baker, a former official with the Department of Homeland Security. “They’d like to be bombing planes and they can’t, so they’re bombing airports,” he said, adding that the attack “validates the focus that the U.S. has had on security at airports.”

Michael Schwirtz and Andrew Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow, and J. David Goodman from New York.

Copyright. 2011. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

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