Russia bolsters police following terror alert

Thursday, January 18, 2007

MOSCOW -- Russia stepped up security in major cities Wednesday, deploying thousands of extra police and urging public vigilance a day after officials warned of a possible terrorist threat on public transportation. In Moscow, which was last hit by terrorist attacks in 2004, officials took the unusual step of ordering cell phone service shut off in the subway system. The measure appeared to be an effort to avert the possibility of explosives being detonated by the phones.

Uniformed police, some with bomb-sniffing dogs, patrolled subway and train stations as well as other sites around Moscow, checking documents and standing guard at entrances. Public announcements asked passengers to be on alert for suspicious items.

Moscow's three main international airports introduced stricter passenger checks and additional police patrols of terminal buildings, news agencies reported.

On Tuesday, the Federal Security Service said the national anti-terrorism headquarters had received information "from foreign partners ... about the possibility a subversive terrorist act could be committed on ground transport and in the subway."

The Kremlin's top official in charge of counterterrorism cooperation, Anatoly Safonov, said the tip-off had come from intelligence agencies of several countries, Interfax reported. Russia cooperates against terrorism with nations around the world, including the United States.

Russian television showed a heightened police presence at other towns around the country.

A top police official, Interior Ministry Col. Gen. Nikolai Rogozhkin, was quoted by news agency RIA-Novosti as saying 5,000 extra police officers had been dispatched in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major centers.

The Moscow subway, one of the world's busiest, carries about 8 million passengers a day. After the 2004 attacks, it began installing surveillance cameras on all subway cars.

Moscow transport police Col. Viktor Ivashchenko said his force had also bolstered the number of officers on patrol to 600 and pointed out that some preventive measures being taken by police would not be observable.

One Moscow resident said he was more cautious Wednesday.

"I was even suspicious when a woman in the Metro placed her bag down there," the man, who gave his name as Anvar, told AP Television News. "I'm on guard whenever possible."

Police officers checked the tickets of all passengers who entered the Kiev railway station in central Moscow as security guards with walkie-talkies patrolled the station.

But Sergei Zaitsev, who was waiting for a train at the Kiev station, was skeptical about the security measures.

"All they did was look at my ticket, not my bag. If I wanted to, I could easily take a bomb and plant it on a train," he said. "Terrorism is still a very real threat here."

Tuesday's announcement came amid a lull in terrorist scares and attacks in Russia.

The country has seen high-profile terrorist incidents in recent years. They included hostage-takings and subway and airline bombings linked to the 12-year conflict in mostly Muslim Chechnya, where large-scale fighting ended years ago but an insurgency continues.

In February 2004, an explosion ripped through a Moscow subway car during rush hour, killing 41 people. In August 2004, a suicide-bombing just outside a Moscow subway station killed 10 people.

Also in August 2004, suicide bombers who boarded their planes at a Moscow airport blew up two Russian passenger jets that exploded almost simultaneously, killing all 90 people on board.

The Kremlin has scored a series of notable successes in its fight against terrorism, including the death in July of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who claimed responsibility for some of the nation's bloodiest attacks.

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