At Least 20 Killed in Apparent Suicide Attack at Police Building in Ingushetia

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MOSCOW, Aug. 17 -- A truck packed with explosives crashed through the gates of a police building in Russia's volatile Ingushetia province Monday, triggering a powerful blast that killed at least 20 people and injured scores of others, authorities said.

The apparent suicide attack was the deadliest in recent years in the North Caucasus, where escalating separatist violence has put the Kremlin on the defensive and forced it to reconsider the harsh tactics that its security forces use in the region.

Nearly two dozen people were killed in clashes in Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan on Thursday and Friday after the killings of two human rights workers in the Chechen capital and the Ingush construction minister earlier in the week.

The truck, loaded with as much as 440 pounds of TNT, according to initial estimates, leveled much of police headquarters in Nazran, the largest city in Ingushetia, as police officers were arriving for morning roll call, officials said.

The explosion occurred in a heavily populated area, damaging several buildings, igniting an arms cache and causing a fire that burned for hours. The Interfax news agency reported that militants fired on police as they fled the blaze, killing at least three officers.

Local officials said that more than 130 people were injured in the blast, including 10 children, and that the death toll was expected to climb because as many as 20 people were buried in the smoldering rubble.

Ingush police had received a tip that militants were preparing a terrorist attack and a description of the truck days earlier but were unable to find it, the official RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed frustration and dismissed the top police official in the province, one of Russia's poorest. "This terror attack could have been prevented," he said.

Ingushetia's Kremlin-appointed president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who was badly wounded in a suicide bombing in June, blamed the attack on Islamist militants seeking revenge for recent security operations along the region's border with Chechnya that left more than 30 suspected rebels dead.

"It was an attempt to destabilize the situation and sow panic," Yevkurov said in a statement.

In a pre-recorded interview broadcast Monday night, Yevkurov also suggested that the United States and its allies were backing militants in the region to weaken Russia.

"I am far from believing that the Arabs are behind all of this. There are other, more serious forces," he told Russian News Service radio. "The West will strive to prevent Russia from restoring its former Soviet-era might. . . . We understand who is interested: the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as Israel. It's quite possible."

Human rights groups say Russian security forces have fueled the insurgency in Ingushetia by waging a campaign of abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings. After a top opposition figure was shot to death in police custody last fall, Medvedev dismissed the previous Ingush president, an ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's, and replaced him with Yevkurov, a former military intelligence official.

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