25 Dead in Luxury Train Bombing
- By Alexandra Odynova
- Nov. 30 2009 00:00
At least 25 people were killed and six were missing after a homemade bomb derailed a luxury express train running from Moscow to St. Petersburg, the Emergency Situations Ministry said late Sunday.
The attack Friday evening, which killed two senior government officials, was the worst terrorist strike outside the North Caucasus since two planes were downed by suicide bombers in 2004.
It was also the second time that bombers have derailed the Nevsky Express, raising fears that militants could step up attacks on the country’s expansive, low-security rail network.
A second bomb detonated Saturday after high-ranking officials, including Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, arrived to oversee the investigation and rescue operations. No one was injured.
President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting Saturday with top security and transportation officials to discuss the tragedy, while hospitals treated the more than 100 wounded and tried to identify the dead. The bodies of 24 victims were identified by relatives as of Sunday evening.
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu had said earlier in the day that 25 were dead and 26 were missing. The ministry did not clarify what happened to the other 20 people initially listed as missing.
“It’s a challenge for our people. A crime, in which any one of us could have been a victim, has been committed for effect. Everyone living in Russia is being intimidated,” Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, said in a statement.
He also led prayers for the dead Sunday at Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The government has yet to announce an official day of mourning, but national state-run television stations canceled their entertainment programming Sunday, and moments of silence were observed before Russian championship football games throughout the day.
The Nevsky Express, currently the fastest train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, left the capital at 7 p.m. and was traveling at about 200 kilometers per hour with 652 passengers and 30 crew, the Interior Ministry said.
Three of the train’s 14 cars were derailed at 9:35 p.m. between the Alyoshinka and Uglovka stations in the Tver region by explosives placed on the tracks, the ministry said.
“A bomb equivalent to 7 kilograms of TNT was detonated,” Federal Security Service director Alexander Bortnikov told Medvedev during the meeting Saturday.
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the meeting that the new, high-speed Sapsan train, scheduled to begin commercial service Dec. 18, passed by the site shortly before the blast during a test run and helped carry some Nevsky Express passengers the rest of the way.
Medvedev ordered a government commission, headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, to coordinate the response to the attack and to report back to him on the investigation and rescue operations.
Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova said about 100 people remained hospitalized. The ministry said in a statement that 21 were in serious condition.
Pictures from the scene showed a meter-wide crater under the rails, one of which was broken, and scattered debris. Two of the cars were completely detached and rolled over onto one side, while a third car was derailed but remained attached to the rest of the train.
Nurgaliyev said Saturday from the scene that investigators were looking for a red-haired man about 40 years old in connection with the bombing, but that “the information needs to be checked.”
Rail links between the country’s two largest cities have been restored, and Nurgaliyev said additional security measures were being taken.
The train’s driver said on Vesti-24 television that the first bomb detonated under the locomotive, which was leading the train. As a result of the high speed, only the last carriages were derailed, he said.
Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, also speaking on Vesti-24 from the scene, said the attack was similar to an August 2007 bombing of the Nevsky Express, in which dozens were injured.
Two Ingush men were charged for that attack, while the suspected mastermind, former military cadet Pavel Kosolapov, remains at large. Law enforcement officials say he fought with Chechen rebels and was an associate of slain rebel leader Shamil Basayev.
No terrorist group has publicly claimed responsibility for either attack.
Golikova said during the meeting with Medvedev that her ministry would provide 300,000 rubles ($10,200) from a government reserve fund to families of the dead. The injured will get from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles. Yakunin told the meeting by video link that state-controlled Russian Railways would separately pay up to 500,000 rubles for the families of the dead and up to 100,000 rubles for the injured.
Golikova also confirmed to the reporters Saturday that Boris Yevstatikov, head of the Federal Reserves Agency, was among the dead. He was 51.
St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said one of her former deputies, Sergei Tarasov, 50, was killed in the last car, Interfax reported.
Tarasov recently stepped down as a senator for St. Petersburg in October to head Rosavtodor, the newly created state roads company. He had been a deputy governor from 2003 to 2008.
The head of Moscow’s Kuzminki district, Viktor Rodionov, and his wife were listed among the injured. Golikova said at least six passengers were from other countries, including two Ukrainians, two Azeris, an Italian and a Belgian.
Zenit St. Petersburg’s youth football team was traveling on the train, but none of its players was hurt.