truck bombing russia 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
A suicide bomber rammed a truck into a police station in the Russian region of Ingushetia on Monday, killing at least 20 police in the worst attack to ravage the poor North Caucasus republic in years.
The blast, which wounded more than 130 others, undermined Kremlin claims that its efforts to bring calm and prosperity to the impoverished patchwork of ethnic groups, clans and religions were succeeding. It also stoked fears that Ingushetia has replaced Chechnya as the next battleground in the southern Russian region.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which left the two-story building smoldering and a crater in the compound's courtyard, where the attacker detonated the bomb.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired Ingushetia's top police official and, in unusually harsh comments, said police forces were as much to blame as the attackers themselves.
"This terrorist attack could have been prevented," he said.
Ingushetia - more than any other North Caucasus region - has been reeling from militant violence in recent months, including a suicide bombing that badly wounded the Kremlin-appointed leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Yevkurov blamed militants who have battled security forces in the forests along the mountainous border with Chechnya.
"It was an attempt to destabilize the situation and sow panic," he said in a statement issued by his spokesman.
Investigators said the attacker crashed his truck through the gates of city police headquarters in Nazran, Ingushetia's main city, as officers were lining up for their morning inspection. Police fired shots at the truck, but failed to stop it.
The blast then triggered a fire that raged for hours, destroying a weapons room where ammunition detonated.
Hours later, rescue teams searched for more victims in the gutted ruins and wrecked vehicles. A nearby apartment building and several offices were also badly damaged, and burned-out cars littered the street.
Emergency officials said 20 officers were killed and up to 138 people were wounded and the death toll was likely to rise as rescuers find more victims.
Monday's bombing was the deadliest to hit Ingushetia since June 21-22, 2004, militant attacks that killed nearly 90 people, mainly police officers.
The attack poses a serious challenge to the Kremlin and its policies in the largely Muslim North Caucasus, which is home to scores of different ethnic groups that have at various times battled Russian forces or fought among themselves.
Under Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin, a relative calm had returned to Chechnya after two separatist wars since 1994. Now that large-scale fighting has ended, the Kremlin has focused on pouring money into rebuilding efforts as well as bolstering local leaders' authority.
But many of the leaders' strong-arm tactics in controlling their regions have prompted a backlash. Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been blamed for widespread human rights abuses. In Ingushetia, Yevkurov's predecessor, Murat Zyazikov, was loathed by much of the population for heavy-handed police abuses and he was forced out last year.
Rights groups and Caucasus experts have warned that arbitrary arrests, torture and killings by security forces are fueling resentment and turning the sympathies of some of the civilian population to rebel fighters.
In Ingushetia, one of Russia's poorest regions, the situation has been worsened by an influx of refugees who fled the fighting in Chechnya. A lingering territorial dispute with neighboring North Ossetia that sparked a brief war in the early 1990s has stoked unrest.
Speaking in an interview with Russian News Service radio, Yevkurov repeated accusations voiced often by the Kremlin and other Caucasus leaders that instability in the region had been fomented by the U.S., Britain and Israel.
"The West will try to prevent Russia from restoring its Soviet-era might," he said.