The bomb went off at about 8:30 a.m. as the train headed through a tunnel toward the Paveletskaya Station in the city’s capital. Moscow’s deputy mayor disputed earlier reports that a suicide blast caused the attack. He told the Associated Press the bomb may have been hidden in a suitcase or backpack on the train.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack as the work of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.
“We do not need any indirect confirmation,” Putin said. “We know for certain that Maskhadov and his bandits are linked to this terrorism.”
A spokesman for the fugitive separatist denied Maskhadov’s involvement in the attack.
“The president and government of the (separatist) Chechen Republic of Ichkeria hereby declare that they are in no way connected to this bloody provocation and unequivocally condemn it,” read a statement signed by Akhmed Zakayev on a rebel Web site.
Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin confirmed that 39 people had died in the rush hour attack and said doctors were treating 129 others for injuries including burns, broken bones and carbon monoxide poisoning.
The attack is believed to be the worst since July 2003 when two suicide bombers detonated bombs killing 14 people at a music festival at the Tushino airfield in Moscow.
A witness to Friday’s bombing said survivors were forced to climb through windows and doors and walk about a mile through the tunnel to safety.
“I heard a terrible explosion and almost fell over,” a second witness told the AP. “My first thought was to run outside to the fresh air, but from the shock I could hardly move.”
Tens of thousands of people have been killed over the last decade in the bloody conflict between Russia and the mostly Muslim separatist republic of Chechnya. Since 1991, Russia has refused to recognize Chechnya’s declared independence, sparking two wars between separatist fighters and Russian forces.
In addition to battles in the Chechen capital of Grozny, rebels have moved their fight into the Russian capital. In July 2002, rebels held 700 theatergoers hostage at the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow. Forty-one Chechen rebels and 129 hostages died in the standoff with Russian troops.
On Friday President Bush called Putin by phone to express his condolences.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “The president condemns this terrorist attack in the strongest terms. His thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”