Twin car bombs killed four people and wounded close to 50 on Monday in Russia’s restive Dagestan region, while the Kremlin also announced it had foiled a major attack on Moscow.
“Within the space of a few minutes, two cars blew up” in the southern region’s capital, Makhachkala, a local investigative committee said.
Investigators initially put the death toll at eight, but the local interior ministry later revised it to four, adding that 44 people were also wounded, most of them seriously.
The incident occurred only hours before federal security agencies announced they had prevented an attack on the capital by killing two Russian suspects in the Moscow region and arresting another who had allegedly received training on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.
The Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been personally informed about the foiled plot and the special security operation to capture the suspects.
“All three are Russian citizens who adhered to Islam,” a federal law enforcement official told the Interfax news agency.
The last major attack in Moscow in 2011 saw 37 people killed in a suicide bombing at Moscow Domodedovo Airport. A double suicide bombing in the Moscow metro in 2010 killed 40.
However, attacks in Dagestan are almost a daily occurrence and range from shootings at police to larger bombings.
Witnesses in Makhachkala said they saw at least two dozen cars damaged in the parking lot outside a bailiff’s office after two bombs went off within 15 minutes of each other.
The force of the explosions sent metal shrapnel flying about 150m and tore electric wires hanging overhead to shreds.
Pools of blood could be seen outside the building on the scenic shore of the Caspian Sea.
Dagestan’s police department said the second bomb — its force estimated at between 40kg and 50kg of TNT — went off after security arrived on the scene to investigate the first explosion.
The ITAR-TASS news agency quoted one police source as saying that the incident may have been an assassination attempt against a senior bailiff’s office representative.
Reports said that two law enforcement officials and a bailiff’s office employee had died.
Another investigator said the bombs might have been remotely set off. The police closed off traffic across a large section of the city of more than half a million people in a hunt for the bombers.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility from any of the guerrilla movements in the North Caucasus region.
Dagestan is one of Russia’s most violent regions. It is also home to the parents of the Boston bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The predominantly Muslim republic is rife with organized crime syndicates and has suffered from an influx of armed guerrillas from Chechnya.
War-wrecked Chechnya fought two brutal post-Soviet campaigns against federal troops and has now been placed under Moscow’s proxy control. However, Moscow has struggled to exert its influence on Dagestan and analysts believe that its local leadership remains weak.
“In essence, we are seeing a civil war [in Dagestan] between local underground forces and the law enforcement authorities,” independent security analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.