AT LEAST 15 people died and scores were wounded when a female suicide bomber struck at a railway station in southern Russia.
The attack heightened concern about terrorism prior to February’s Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
No group claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack in Volgograd, but it came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.
Volgograd, 550 miles south of Moscow, lies about 400 miles north-east of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.
Suicide bombings and other attacks linked to Islamic rebels in the North Caucasus have rocked Russia for years. The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the Olympics, and the organisers have pledged to make the Sochi Games the “safest Olympics in history”.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said the bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector at the station’s main entrance.
He added that the bomb contained about 22lbs of explosives and was loaded with shrapnel.
Mr Markin said that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed.
He said that 13 people and the bomber were killed in the blast. Another victim died later at a hospital.
The Interfax news agency said that the suspected bomber’s head was found at the site of explosion, which would allow security agencies to identify her.
Female suicide bombers, many of whom were widows or sisters of rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia.
In October, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Officials said that attacker came from the province of Dagestan, which has become the centre of an Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region after two separatist wars in Chechnya.
Images captured yesterday by a security camera facing the station, broadcast by Rossiya 24 television, showed the moment of explosion: a bright orange flash inside the station behind the main gate followed by plumes of smoke.
“Pieces of flesh mixed with shards of glass and smoke billowed from inside, I didn’t even understand at first what was going on,” said eyewitness Svetlana Zabotko.
On Friday, three people were killed when a car rigged with explosives blew up on a street in Pyatigorsk, the centre of a federal administrative district intended to stabilise the North Caucasus region.
Russia in past years has seen a series of terror attacks on buses, trains and aircraft, some carried out by suicide bombers.
Twin bombings on the Moscow subway in March 2010 by female suicide bombers killed 40 people and wounded more than 120. In January 2011, a male suicide bomber struck Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 37 and injuring more than 180.
Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for the 2010 and 2011 bombings, ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets during the mass street protests against president Vladimir Putin in the winter of 2011-12.
He reversed that order in July, urging his followers to “do their utmost to derail” the Sochi Olympics which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.”