Breaking News: Suicide attack in Russia kills 17, wounds over 130
RUSSIA: A suicide car bomber hit a central market in southern Russia on Thursday, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 130 in one of the North Caucasus region's worst attacks in years, officials said.
The bomber detonated his explosives as he drove by the main entrance to the Vladikavkaz market, the emergency situations ministry said.
The death toll included the bomber, and 98 of the 133 people wounded in the explosion were hospitalized, many in grave condition, said Alexander Pogorely of the emergency situations ministry.
TV images showed a shrapnel-littered square in front of the market, with blood stains on the pavement and rows of vehicles scarred by the blast.
Russia's North Caucasus has been gripped by violence stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya and fueled by endemic poverty, rampant official corruption and police abuses.
Vladikavkaz, a major city, is the capital of the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Although it is less plagued by violence than other republics in the region such as Chechnya and Dagestan, North Ossetia has experienced ethnic tensions and frequent attacks.
The Vladikavkaz market area has been the target of several bomb attacks over the past dozen years in which scores of people have died. It was bombed in 1999, killing 55 people. Another bombing in 2001 killed six people, and in 2004, 11 people died when a minibus near the market was bombed.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev immediately sent his regional envoy to Vladikavkaz to help coordinate efforts to help the victims. He urged investigators to "do everything to track down the beasts, the scoundrels who conducted that terror attack.''
No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the deadliest attack in the region since a double suicide bombing killed 12 in Dagestan in April. Twin suicide bombings on Moscow subway in March killed 40 people and wounded over 100.
Unlike most other Caucasus provinces where Muslims make up the majority of the population, North Ossetia is predominantly Orthodox Christian. It has been destabilized by long-simmering tensions between ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Ingush that exploded into an open fighting in 1992.
"The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens,'' Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks during a meeting with Russia's top Islamic cleric. "We mustn't allow this.''
The regional president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, quickly sent condolences to the leader of North Ossetia on Thursday to help assuage tensions between the two ethnic groups.
The market attack came as Muslims were preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
North Ossetia was also the scene of the 2004 Beslan crisis, where Chechen militants took hundreds of hostages at a school - a siege that ended in a bloodbath killing more than 330 people, about half of them children.
In other violence in southern Russia, officials said on Thursday that a hotel employee and another civilian were shot to death by men trying to build a bomb in their hotel room in the Caspian Sea province of Dagestan.
The shooting took place late Wednesday in the regional capital of Makhachkala, Interior Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said. He said three armed men fled a room in the small hotel after an explosion and opened fire on a hotel clerk and another person who confronted them. He says police found several bombs and six grenades in the room.
In the Dagestani town of Khasavyurt, on the border with Chechnya, a policeman returning home from work was shot to death, Gasanov said.