A woman with explosives strap-ped to her waist blew them up in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims, killing herself and 13 others in an apparent attempt on the life of Chechnya's Moscow-backed administrator.
Chechen administrator Akhmad Kadyrov escaped unharmed but two of his bodyguards were injured, said Major General Ruslan Avtayev, head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Chechnya. The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that five of Kadyrov's bodyguards were killed.
The attack in Iliskhan-Yurt, a village about 25km southeast of the capital, Grozny, appeared to have been an attempt on the life of Kadyrov, who is hated by rebels for his cooperation with Moscow.
Authorities identified the attacker as a 46-year-old widow whose husband allegedly was shot to death in 1999, said Chechen prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko. A second attacker died before being able to detonate her explosives, Russia's state-controlled Channel One said.
The attack came just days after three suicide bombers detonated a truck laden with explosives outside a government compound in northern Chechnya. The death toll in that attack rose to 59 on Wednesday. Immediately afterward, Kadyrov criticized the lax security in the republic, and urged federal forces to turn over their responsibilities for hunting rebels to Chechen security agencies.
The two attacks highlight the violence that continues in Chechnya, despite Kremlin claims that the small southern republic is stabilizing and on the path to peace.
"These terror attacks in Chechnya will not thwart the efforts of the Russian leadership to reach a political settlement in Chechnya," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Wednesday, standing alongside visiting US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The Kremlin has tried to portray its three-and-a-half-year-old war in Chechnya as part of the international campaign against terror, and has accused foreign terrorist groups of funding attacks and training.
In Wednesday's attack, the suicide bombers approached Kadyrov shortly after he finished a prayer service for a crowd of about 10,000 at a religious ceremony on a grassy hillside in Iliskhan-Yurt, a spot considered sacred to Caucasus Mountain Muslims as the birthplace of three respected 19th century sheiks and the possible burial site of a descendent of Prophet Muhammad.
"When Kadyrov finished a prayer and people just stood talking, a woman quietly approached the group. An explosion ripped through the air," Akhmad Abastov, the chief of the Gudermes district was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.
Avtayev said 145 people were injured, 45 seriously. Many of the victims were elderly.
The outgunned and outnumbered rebels target not only federal forces but also Chechens who they view as cooperating with Moscow.