A bomb blast, believed to be from a suicide bomber, tore through a subway train Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia, killing 11 people and injuring 45 as President Vladimir Putin visited the city. Hours later, police found an unexploded device in one of St. Petersburg’s busiest subway stations, sending a wave of anguish and fear through Putin’s hometown.
The Interfax news agency reported that Russian police believe that one man – a 23-year-old from formerly Soviet Central Asia and linked to radical Islamic groups – planted both bombs.
The agency cited an unidentified law-enforcement official as saying that investigators believe the suspect carried an explosive device onto the train in a rucksack, after having planted a bomb at a subway station that was later found and defused before it went off.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Monday, but Russian trains and planes have been targeted repeatedly by Islamic terrorists, mostly connected to the insurgency in Chechnya and other Caucasus republics. The last confirmed attack was in October 2015 when Islamic State downed a Russian airliner heading from an Egyptian resort, killing all 224 people on board. A Dec. 25 crash of a Russian plane carrying Red Army Choir members near the southern city of Sochi is widely believed to have been due to a bomb, but no official cause has been stated for the crash that killed 92 people.
The blast Monday hit the St. Petersburg train as it traveled between stations at about 2:20 p.m. The driver chose to continue on to the next station, Technological Institute, a decision praised by Russia’s Investigative Committee as aiding evacuation efforts and reducing the danger that passengers would die by trying to walk along the subway’s electrified tracks.
Witnesses said the blast spread panic among passengers, who ran toward the exits of the station, which is 130 feet underground.
“Everything was covered in smoke, there were a lot of firefighters,” Maria Smirnova, a student on a train behind the one where the bomb went off, told the Dozhd television channel. “Firefighters shouted at us to run for the exit and everyone ran. Everyone was panicking.”
The entire St. Petersburg subway system, which serves some two million riders a day, was shut down and evacuated. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee said security was immediately tightened at all of the country’s key transportation sites, and Moscow officials said that included the subway in the Russian capital.
Mr. Putin, speaking Monday in a broadcast from Constantine Palace in the city, offered his condolences to the families of those killed.
Within two hours of the blast, Russian authorities had found and deactivated another bomb at a separate busy St. Petersburg subway station, Vosstaniya Square, the anti-terror agency said. That station is a major transfer point for passengers on two lines and serves the railway station from which most trains to Moscow depart.
Social-media users posted photographs and video from the Technology Institute subway station showing injured people lying on the floor outside a train with a mangled door. Frantic commuters were reaching into doors and windows, trying to see if anyone was there, and shouting “Call an ambulance!”
St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, with over five million residents, is the country’s most popular tourist destination, but there was no immediate information on whether any foreigners were among the victims Monday.
Nataliya Maksimova, who was running late for a dentist appointment, entered the subway near the explosion site shortly after the blast.
“If I hadn’t been running late, I could have been there,” she told The Associated Press.
Mr. Putin was in St. Petersburg on Monday to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and went ahead with the talks after appearing on Russian TV to speak about the attack.
“Law-enforcement agencies and intelligence services are doing their best to establish the cause and give a full picture of what happened,” Mr. Putin said.
Russian transport facilities have been the target of previous terror attacks.
Suicide bombings in the Moscow subway on March 29, 2010, killed 40 people and wounded more than 100 people. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the attack by two female suicide bombers, warning Russian leaders that “the war is coming to their cities.”
A Moscow-to-St. Petersburg train was also bombed on Nov. 27, 2009, in an attack that left 26 dead and some 100 injured. Umarov’s group also said he ordered this attack.
Russian airports have also been hit by attacks. On Jan. 24, 2011, a suicide bomber blew himself up at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 37 people and wounding 180. The same airport in August 2004 saw Islamic suicide bombers board two airplanes and bring them down, killing a total of 90 people.
Updated Monday, April 3, 2017 at 6:53 pm