Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Toll from Chechen suicide attack rises to 52, 186 injured

AFP , MOSCOW

The death toll from a suicide attack in Chechnya on a pro-Russian government building rose to 52 yesterday and was expected to move even higher as rescue workers searched the rubble for victims, the Russian emergencies ministry said.

Eighty-six people remained hospitalized, including 57 in critical condition, following the truck-bomb attack on Monday in Znamenskoye, northern Chechnya, the ministry said, quoted by Interfax-AVN news agency.

Rescue workers have pulled out alive 23 people from the rubble of the blasted government complex, which housed the local administration, police and FSB intelligence services, it added.

"The great majority of the dead were civilians, including 22 women and children," the head of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

The Russian emergencies ministry earlier said that all victims of the blast -- including 10 children and 15 women -- had been identified.

On Monday morning, suicide bombers drove a truck packed with one tonne of explosives into the government building in one of the deadliest single attacks since conflict between separatist rebels and federal troops broke out in October 1999.

Rebels had vowed to step up attacks to disrupt the results of a March 23 referendum that sealed Chechnya's place in the Russian Federation, but a spokesman for rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov denied responsibility for the Znamenskoye blast.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said that his office had drawn up a "circle of suspects" and was carrying out an investigation to identify and arrest those who organized the blast.

In the last major rebel attack on Dec. 27, some 80 people were killed when rebels drove two explosives-packed vehicles into the headquarters of Chechnya's pro-Russian administration in Grozny.

That blast was claimed by the rebel group led by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Fridinsky said Monday that while he did not believe the two attacks were organized by the same people "there was a link between them."

Kadyrov said that he had ordered a "strict inquiry into the services tasked with security and maintaining order."

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