Bomb blast shakes Grozny district; 36 hurt

Saturday, June 21, 2003

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A powerful truck bomb exploded near a government compound in the Chechen capital of Grozny on Friday, killing two bombers and wounding 36 people, officials said.

The blast went off about 70 yards from a building that houses the police department for fighting organized crime in Chechnya, said Akhmed Dzheirkhanov, deputy chief of the Emergency Situations Ministry branch for the republic.

Of the 36 wounded, four people, including one child, were hospitalized, Dzheirkhanov said.

A Chechen Justice Ministry official, Vadish Tepkayev, said eight people were killed. There was no way to reconcile the conflicting casualty counts.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said Russian forces managed to stop the truck before it reached its destination, preventing more casualties. He did not specify what they did to stop it.

"It was obvious that the truck did not plan to stop and its driver had criminal intentions," Gryzlov said in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, according to the Interfax news agency. "The vehicle was destroyed."

The truck carried the equivalent of 1.6 tons of TNT, emergency ministry official Ruslan Khadzhiyev said.

The explosion carved a crater three yards wide and four yards deep, Dzheirkhanov said. It caused moderate damage to buildings housing the police organized crime unit and the region's electricity utility, Grozenergo.

TVS television showed footage of a man cradling his injured arm as he ran for help on a street strewn with metal fragments. Police and military troops streamed into the street, moving quickly toward the smoke-covered scene of the blast.

The explosion came a day before the republic's temporary legislature was to have met for its first session in a Grozny building that was hastily built to replace the government headquarters destroyed in a December car bombing. That attack killed at least 70 people.

Chechnya's Moscow-appointed acting president, Akhmad Kadyrov, said the bombing would not stop the legislature from holding its session, according to Interfax.

The explosion also followed a day of heavy fighting in which 11 servicemen were killed, according to an official in the Moscow-backed civilian administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Unknown assailants also shot and killed Ramzan Akhmetkhanov, chief of police of a Grozny district, at his home, the official said.

Earlier this month, a female bomber blew up a bus carrying workers from a Russian air base near Chechnya, killing herself and at least 14 people. Two other suicide bombings inside Chechnya killed at least 78 people in a three-day period last month.

The rebel attacks have undercut the Kremlin's efforts to portray the situation in the war-shattered region as stabilizing. The Russian parliament approved a partial amnesty last month in hopes of encouraging rebels to abandon their fight.

Rebels forced Russian troops out of Chechnya after a 1994-96 war, leaving the republic de facto independent. Russian troops rolled back in fall 1999 after rebels raided a neighboring Russian region and after a series of apartment explosions blamed on rebels.

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