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Death Toll in Chechnya Truck Bombing Rises

BY Admin  May 13, 2003 at 10:33 AM EDT

Reports on the number of people wounded in the attack vary widely with some estimates as high as 300.

The attack occurred in the northern town of Znamenskoye, an area considered a largely stable part of Chechnya near its border with the Stavropol region.

The violence is the biggest flare-up since Russia held a constitutional referendum in March in an effort to find a peaceful solution to three and a half years of fighting between Russian forces and Chechen rebels seeking complete independence from Moscow.

Russian troops had apparently questioned the drivers of the explosives-loaded truck ahead of the explosion but never looked inside the vehicle, the Reuters news service reported.

“Policemen and military stopped the truck and checked the drivers’ documents but they obviously didn’t look in the back,” Sultan Satuyev, Chechnya’s Deputy Minister of International affairs was quoted as saying in the local Kommersant daily according to Reuters.

Monday’s attack led the head of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administrator, Akhmad Kadyrov, to call for new changes in the conduct of “counter-terrorist” operations in the region.

He has proposed that responsibility for fighting militant Chechen separatist fighters be switched from Russian federal forces to the region’s own Interior ministry, according to an Associated Press account of an Interfax news agency report.

A tense security situation continues to dog Chechnya, despite efforts by Moscow to reduce the number of federal forces patrolling the war-torn region and encourage thousands of Chechens who have fled the country to return to their homeland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the attackers were trying to undermine the stability created by a loose political federation with Russia.

“All similar actions are aimed at only one thing: to stop the process of settlement in Chechnya, to stop the process of a political settlement,” Mr. Putin said in a televised address to his cabinet. “We cannot allow anything like that, and we shall not allow it.”

The truck pulled up to a checkpoint outside the government compound at about 10 a.m. local time, and exploded about 100 feet from a protective concrete wall, according to Nikolai Patrushev, the director of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the successor to the K.G.B. that now leads the campaign against Chechen separatists.

The explosion, estimated to be the equivalent of a ton of TNT, left a crater more than 30 feet wide and 6 feet deep and damaged the headquarters of the regional government as well as offices of the Interior Ministry and the F.S.B.

The blast leveled eight buildings and killed government workers, shopkeepers and residents of nearby buildings. Seven children were also killed in the attack according to media reports.

The bombing is the latest in a series of deadly violence in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Last December, a similar truck bomb killed more than 70 people outside the headquarters of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration in the capital, Grozny.

Last Friday, a bomb that had been planted near a stadium in Grozny exploded, wounding three policemen as citizens gathered nearby for a parade marking the Russian Victory Day holiday that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany.