People looking at destroyed cars at a police station in Nazran on Monday after a suicide minivan attack killed at least 20 people and injured 138 others.
Ingush police received a tip Friday that insurgents were planning to stage a suicide bombing with a GAZelle minivan.
But they were caught off guard Monday when a GAZelle packed with explosives rammed into the closed gates of a police station in Nazran as police officers were lining up nearby for a morning briefing.
The powerful explosion killed at least 20 people and wounded 138 others, including 10 children, marking the most deadly attack in the North Caucasus in recent years.
Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who is recovering in Moscow from a similar attack in June, accused insurgents of being behind the bombing and other recent attacks and darkly hinted that the United States, Britain and Israel had the most to gain from instability in the region.
Police officers were being briefed in the fenced-in courtyard of the Nazran police station when the GAZelle came speeding toward them at 9:08 a.m., the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
When minivan plowed into the metal gates, one of the police officers threw open the driver’s door and tried to pull the driver out, an Ingush law enforcement source told Itar-Tass. A second suicide bomber in the vehicle then detonated the explosives.
The explosion, which investigators said had the force of 500 kilograms to 1 ton of dynamite, destroyed the police station and badly damaged several nearby buildings, including a five-story apartment building. State television showed pictures of the blackened police station and smoldering debris, dozens of burned-out cars, destroyed apartment balconies and shattered windows.
ReutersEmergency workers looking through debris Monday outside a destroyed police station in Nazran, Ingushetia.
Ingush Deputy Interior Minister Zyaudin Dourbekov said the police had received information that a GAZelle was being used in preparation for a terrorist attack three days earlier.
“The GAZelle that the suicide terrorist was in was on our search list,” Dourbekov said, RIA-Novosti reported. “We had information on Aug. 15 about preparations for a terrorist attack with the use of this vehicle.”
President Dmitry Medvedev said the attack could have been avoided and dismissed Ingush Interior Minister Ruslan Meiriyev.
Medvedev also ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to undertake “additional measures to bring the necessary order in the Ingush Interior Ministry” and to come up with suggestions on the “strengthening of the republican Interior Ministry’s personnel,” the Kremlin said.
Meiriyev, who was appointed as Ingushetia’s top police official in January, oversaw a sharp escalation in violence this summer, including the shooting deaths of Ingushetia’s construction minister last week and a deputy chief justice of the republic’s Supreme Court in June.
Ingush President Yevkurov, who is recovering from injuries inflicted when his motorcade was targeted in a suicide bombing on June 22, said Monday that insurgents were trying to raise their profile with attacks in Ingushetia and other parts of the North Caucasus. He suggested that Western countries had the most to benefit from the attacks. “I am far from thinking that Arabs are behind all of this,” he said on Russian News Service radio. “We understand who is interested: the United States and Britain. Including Israel. It is quite real.”
Asked by telephone about whether the Kremlin shares the same views on the West’s interest in instability in the North Caucasus, a Kremlin spokesman declined to comment, saying he was too busy.
Musa Sadulayev / APAn apartment near the Nazran police station. The boy’s father was injured.
Yevkurov, who was authorized by Medvedev to resume his duties as president last week, also said Monday that a Chechen rebel leader had organized the attempt on his life and Ingush law enforcement officials had “torn the heads off” the rebels who had participated in it within the following month.
No one claimed responsibility for the Nazran police station attack as of Monday evening. The republic announced three days of mourning.
An unidentified Ingush police source told Itar-Tass that investigators were trying to establish the owner of the GAZelle by examining the debris. He also said investigators had found a severed human head about 50 meters from the site of the explosion and that they were working to establish whether it belonged to a suicide bomber.
Rescue workers were digging through the destroyed police station in a search for survivors late Monday. About 20 people might be buried in the debris, RIA-Novosti reported.
Local hospitals were flooded with injured people, and a special Emergency Situations Ministry airplane with medical personnel and supplies was sent from Moscow, Channel One reported.
The surge in attacks in the North Caucasus is linked to a drop in federal subsidies amid the economic crisis, said Maxim Agarkov, an analyst with the SK-Strategia think tank who previously worked as a terrorism analyst for the Interior Ministry. “Moscow had been showering the regional elites with money, and they in exchange secured stability by distributing the money and setting law enforcement officials against potential troublemakers,” Agarkov said. “This strategy is no longer working because less money is trickling down and public rage against law enforcement officials is becoming stronger.”
Federal subsidies for Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan have been slashed by about a third this year because of the crisis and the end of the active phase of the reconstruction effort in Chechnya, Agarkov said.