In this screen shot taken in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009, a computer screen shows an undated photo of a man identified as Chechen separatist leader Doku Umarov posted on the Kavkazcenter.com site.
Chechen rebels have claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 26 people traveling on a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, rebel web site Kavkaz Center said Wednesday.
The attack, which derailed the luxury Nevsky Express train Friday night, was part of a broader strategy announced earlier this year by rebel leader Doku Umarov, Kavkaz Center said in a statement attributed to the rebels’ headquarters. Umarov had called to move terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage from the North Caucasus to the rest of Russia.
Most recently, Chechen rebels also claimed responsibility for the disaster that killed 75 workers at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant Aug. 17, but, like in the train bombing, they have failed to produce any proof of their involvement.
The rebels pledged to continue attacks on Russian soil but promised to limit civilian casualties.
Two senior government officials were killed in Friday’s bombing: Sergei Tarasov, head of the state roads company and a former senator, and Boris Yevstratikov, head of the Federal Reserves Agency.
Rescue workers said the death toll rose to 27 on Tuesday after another body was pulled from the train wreckage, but the official figure was revised downward to 26 on Wednesday. More than 90 people remained hospitalized.
The Chechen rebels were not the first to claim responsibility for the bombing. A radical nationalist group called Combat 18 took credit on a nationalist Internet blog on the day after the attack. Unlike some nationalist groups that claim responsibility for high-profile attacks, Combat 18 actually exists, and its members have been interviewed by the Russian media previously.
About 1,500 people gathered for a United Russia-organized anti-terrorism rally in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, holding banners reading “Terrorists Are Not People” and “Find and Annihilate.”
Meanwhile, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Leonid Belyayev, said the bombers had planned to blow up two trains Friday night: the Nevsky Express and the ER-200 train bound from St. Petersburg to Moscow, which was supposed to pass the bomb site at the same time as the Nevsky Express, RIA-Novosti reported. Curiously, the Russian Railways’ two ER-200 high-speed trains were decommissioned earlier this year and placed in museums.
The bombing has not affected passenger traffic on the Nevsky Express, with people buying the same number of tickets as before the bombing, Russian Railways spokesman Dmitry Pertsev told Business FM radio.