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Russia launches terror probe after train bomb

(The following report appeared at the Times Online website on August 14.)

LONDON — Russia launched a terrorism investigation today after a suspected bomb derailed a long-distance train carrying business commuters and tourists from Moscow to St Petersburg, overturning carriages and injuring 60 passengers and crew.

The explosion took place just after the train had crossed a bridge late last night near the village of Malaya Vishera in the Novgorod region, about 300 miles from Moscow and 106 miles from St Petersburg.

Several carriages were sent hurtling off the tracks by the blast, which the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said contained 2kg of explosive material.

Witnesses at the scene said that almost all the carriages left the tracks, and at least three had been fully tipped on their sides.

One conductor on board the train told the Reuters news agency: "We heard two explosions, then the train put on the brakes suddenly.

"The train shook. A panic started. We smashed out the glass and helped the passengers out ... The worst damage was in the restaurant car. That is where most of the casualties were."

In total, 60 passengers were injured, with 38 of them requiring hospital treatment.

The FSB, the successor to the former Soviet KGB security service, indicated that Chechen terrorists were considered the main suspects today.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of the FSB, said that the bomb was part of a pattern of violence that also included a spate of attacks on security forces and officials in the North Caucasus region around Chechnya.

"We have been able to significantly reduce the number of terrorist attacks," the Russian Interfax news agency quoted Mr Patrushev as saying. "Nevertheless, the threat of extremism and terrorism has not been removed once and for all."

Rebel fighters linked to Chechnya have used bombs to target passenger trains in the past.

In 2003, an explosion on a morning commuter train outside Yessentuki, north-west of Chechnya, killed 46 people.

Two years later, a passenger train heading from Chechnya to Moscow was derailed 93 miles from the Russian capital. Eight people were treated in hospital.

Chechnya’s separatist rebels have, however, been weakened by the killing of many of their field commanders, and have not carried out any major attacks outside the North Caucasus region for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Islamist insurgent groups from neighbouring Russian regions have been increasingly active, with attacks including the ambush of police patrols and the bombing of army bases.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

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