Female suicide bombers set off huge explosions in two subway stations in central Moscow during the Monday morning rush hour, Russian officials said, killing more than three dozen people and raising fears that the Muslim insurgency in southern Russia was once again being brought to the country’s heart.
The first attack occurred as commuters were exiting a packed train at a station near the headquarters of the F.S.B., the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B. Officials said they suspected that the attack there was intended as a message to the security services, which have helped lead the crackdown on Islamic extremism in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus region in southern Russia.
Officials said the first explosion occurred at 7:57 a.m. in the second car of a train at the Lubyanka station, killing people on the platform and inside the train.
The authorities closed off the station and the surrounding Lubyanka Square, formerly the site of the notorious Lubyanka prison, which was connected to the headquarters of the K.G.B.
The second attack took place at 8:36 a.m., in the third car of a train at the Park Kultury station, officials said.
The two explosions spread panic throughout the capital as people searched for missing relatives and friends, and the authorities tried to determine whether more attacks were planned. The subway system is one of the world’s most extensive and well-managed, and it serves as a vital artery for Moscow commuters, carrying as many as 10 million people a day.
Mr. Luzhkov said 23 people were killed in the first explosion, at the Lubyanka station, and 12 people were killed about 40 minutes later at the Park Kultury station. At least two others died later. More than 100 people were injured.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
“The terrorist acts were carried out by two female terrorist bombers,” said Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov. “They happened at a time when there would be the maximum number of victims.” (New York Times)
“Our preliminary assessment is that this act of terror was committed by a terrorist group from the North Caucasus region,” Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal Security Service said of the investigation at one of the blast sites. “We consider this the most likely scenario, based on investigations conducted at the site of the blast,” he said. “Fragments of the suicide bombers’ body found at the blast, according to preliminary findings, indicate that the bombers were from the North Caucasus region.” (CNN)
Yuri Syomin, the Moscow city prosecutor, said investigators believe that both explosions were set off by female suicide bombers wearing belts packed with explosives.
The devices – believed to have been made with the powerful explosive, hexogen, which is more commonly known as RDX – were filled with chipped iron rods and screws for shrapnel.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, the country’s paramount leader, cut short a trip to Siberia, returning to Moscow to oversee the federal response. Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature. Mr. Putin vowed that “the terrorists will be destroyed.” (New York Times)
“We are providing Moscow metro with additional CCTV cameras. Today’s events show we should not only continue this work but to make it more effective. Changes in legislation may be necessary.” (CNN)
President Dmitri A. Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s protégé, was in Moscow and was briefed on the blasts by top law enforcement and security advisers. Mr. Medvedev echoed the Prime Minister’s words after laying a wreath at the site of one of the attacks, saying: “They are animals. I have no doubt that we will find and destroy them all.” (BBC)
President Medvedev asked officials to increase security on the public transport system nationwide. “What was being done needs to be substantially strengthened,” he said. “Look at this problem on the scale of the state, not only as it applies to a particular type of transport and a particular city.” (BBC)
Photographs showed scenes of devastation, with bodies strewn across subway cars and station platforms.
Pavel Y. Novikov, 25, an electrician, said he was evacuated from the Park Kultury station about 15 minutes after the explosion. “It smelled like burned rubber,” he said. “I saw blood, and I saw bloody clothes on the ground. It was so horrible.” (New York Times)
“It’s disgusting,” one witness said. “I don’t know who did it and what they wanted. Life is so short. How could people commit such terrible acts?” (CNN)
Kirill Gribov, 20, a university student, said he was on a train that arrived at the Park Kultury station just as the suicide bomber detonated her explosive belt on the train across the platform. “The explosion was so loud that we all were deafened,” Mr. Gribov said. “Then I remember a cloud of gas coming from the wrecked train in front of us, coloured in pink, maybe because of blood. Some people were in panic, some stood still, but all of us somehow found our way outside the station. It was only on the street when I realized what had just happened. Mobile service was blocked, I couldn’t even call my parents, and I had to walk several kilometres because of the traffic.” (New York Times)
“I was moving up on the escalator when I heard a loud bang, a blast,” an eyewitness named Alexei told Rossiya 24 TV channel. “A door near the passageway arched, was ripped out and a cloud of dust came down on the escalator. People started running, panicking, falling on each other.” (BBC)
Yulia Shapovalova of Russia Today TV was at the second station at the time of the blast. “The staff members started urgently evacuating people, so that meant they probably knew about the first blast at the Lubyanka station,” she said. “All the people – a huge crowd of people – slowly started to move… As soon as I got upstairs, I heard the blast.” (CNN)
“The whole city is a mess, people are calling each other, the operators can’t cope with such a huge number of calls at one time,” said Olga, a BBC News website reader in Moscow. “Those who witnessed the tragedy can’t get over the shock.” (BBC)
Both stations reopened at about 5 p.m. local time, according to Veronica Molskaya from the Press Service of the Russian Emergency Ministry. In St. Petersburg, three metro stations were shut as a result of the bomb scare.
Millions of commuters use the metro system every day. An estimated 500,000 people were riding throughout the capital at the time of the attacks. It was unclear when the system would return to normal service.
“I feel scared,” one woman said on TV. “I have to walk to get to work, because there is no way I’m going by Metro.” (CNN)
The attacks reverberated around the globe. U.S. President Obama condemned the “outrageous acts” and passed along his condolences. “The American people stand united with the people of Russia in opposition to violent extremism and heinous terrorist attacks that demonstrate such disregard for human life,” Obama said. (CNN)
New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said police are stepping up security in the New York City subway system.
In Washington, Metro, the operator of the city’s transit system, said it is expanding security in light of the Moscow attacks. Coincidentally, it had a terror drill this past weekend and is holding another one Monday.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “appalled” by the incident and sent condolences to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to Britain’s Press Association.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and said he “is confident that the Russian authorities will bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist attack.” (CNN)
Interpol, the international police agency, condemned the attacks and offered help to Russian authorities in the investigation. Interpol’s executive director of police services, Jean-Michel Louboutin, called the actions “despicable and senseless attacks targeting the public.” (CNN)
In the early part of the last decade the subway system suffered several attacks related to the separatist war in Chechnya. With the explosions on Monday, Muscovites expressed renewed concerns that they might again become targets.
The earlier raft of attacks had repercussions far beyond the security station in the Caucasus and the rest of the country. In 2004, Mr. Putin, the president at the time, responded by greatly tightening control over the government, saying that the country had to be united against terrorism. He pushed through laws that eliminated the election of regional governors, turning them into appointees of the president, and that made it harder for independents to be elected to Parliament.
In February, at least 20 insurgents were killed in an operation by troops in Ingushetia. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov warned in February that “the zone of military operations will be extended to the territory of Russia… the war is coming to their cities.” (BBC)
Last November, he said his Caucasian Majuhadeen had carried out a bombing that killed 26 people on board an express train traveling from Moscow to Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg.
The attack came six months after President Medvedev declared an end to Russia’s “counter-terrorism operations” in Chechnya, in a bid to “further normalize the situation” after 15 years of conflict that claimed more than 100,000 lives and left it in ruins.
Despite this, the mainly Muslim republic continues to be plagued by violence, and over the past two years Islamist militants have stepped up attacks in neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan.