Terror returned to the Russian capital on Monday after five years when two suspected Chechen female suicide bombers blew themselves up on packed metro trains in central Moscow killing at least 38 people and wounding 63 others.
Though no organisation claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks during morning rush hour, Chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB) blamed militant groups active in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region (Chechnya) for the strikes.
Hours after the blasts, security agencies recovered an unexploded suicide belt besides finding the body parts of one of the suicide bombers, ITAR-TASS news agency reported. Quoting sources, it said the body parts indicate that one of the attacker was a black haired Caucasian young woman in the age group of 18-20. Earlier reports had said the faces of both the suicide bombers -suspected to be of Chechen origin -- are not damaged beyond recognition and could help in identifying them.
The first suspected bomber wearing an explosive belt struck at the Lubyanka station under the the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters near Kremlin at 7.56 am local time (9.26 am IST), claiming 25 lives.
Forty minutes later, the second bomber hit a moving train at the Park Kultury station near the famous Gorky Park killing at least 12 people. One person succumbed to his injuries at a hospital. The second blast occurred in the third carriage of the train which had slowed down near the city centre.
The Moscow subway system is one of the world's busiest, carrying more than seven million passengers daily. "It was the handiwork of female suicide bombers," a spokesperson of the Emergency Ministry said. Russia's top investigative body also said terrorism was suspected. The toll could rise as the condition of some of the wounded is stated to be critical. Emergency workers used helicopters and ambulances to rush the injured to hospitals.
"By the 'handwriting' of the blasts it points to the involvement of (militant) groups active in North Caucasus," FSB Chief Gen Alexander Bortnikov said in a televised statement at a Kremlin meeting summoned by President Dmitry Medvedev.
The blast spots on Moscow metro's oldest Red Line are junctions for transfer to other lines and are crowded at most of the time. The authorities immediately shut down some of the main tube lines while lines to the outlying suburbs were running. Later, the services were restored. Gen Bortnikov said explosive devices with hexogen, filled with bolts were used in the attack.
According to state-run TV, after the close study of CCTV footage the police launched a search for two young women, who were seen accompanying the suspected bombers at the gate of Yugo-Zapadnaya (South-West) metro station - the terminal point of the Red Line at which both the bombed stations are located.
At the emergency Kremlin meeting with the security chiefs, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered to tighten the security at all types of transport and vowed to continue the combat against terror groups active in Chechnya and other Caucasus regions.
"We will continue the combat to suppress terror and terrorism," Medvedev said in his televised statement at the meeting with security chiefs. He directed the Interior Minister to take tough steps to ensure security but without any violations of the civil rights of the public. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed to "destroy" the terrorists, who were behind the blasts at two metro stations and is rushing to the capital after cutting short his visit to Siberia.
"As is known, today a crime with horrible consequences and heinous in nature, was committed against peaceful citizens in Moscow. "Tens of people have died in metro. I am confident that the law enforcement agencies will do everything to trace and punish the criminals.
The terrorists will be destroyed," Putin said in his televised statement during a meeting with his key cabinet colleagues through video conference. According to Minister for Emergency Situations Mitigation Sergei Shoigu, 63 people were injured, out of which eight were in critical condition and another 30 remain serious.
The Moscow authorities have opened a hotline for finding the whereabouts of the rescued passengers admitted to four city clinics. The blasts in the underground railway stations have revived the nightmare Moscow had witnessed on February 6, 2004 when a suicide bomb blast on a moving metro train had claimed 42 lives.
Same year in August in a botched attack 10 people were killed outside another metro station. Spokesperson of the Prosecutor's Investigation Committee Vladimir Markin said the case of terror attacks have been opened in the two blasts. The blasts and the rescue work at the sites resulted in a traffic chaos at the nearby Garden Ring Road as the police cordoned off the roads near the Lubyanka square and Park Kultury station and ambulance helicopters landed there. PTI