Sixteen people have been killed and up to 80 injured as a powerful car bomb attack hit the central market in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz.
Eight children were among those taken to a local hospital.
There may be more victims as “in the first minutes after the blast, injured were being carried away by their friends and relatives who transported them to hospitals in taxis,” the republic’s deputy emergency minister Kazbek Bekmurzov told Itar-Tass new agency.
The deputy health minister of North Ossetia, Taimuraz Revazov, said that “many of those hospitalized are in a serious condition. They have suffered greatly from the shrapnel that the explosive device contained.”
Friday, September 10 has been declared a day of mourning in the republic.
Reports say the explosion was so powerful that it damaged nearby buildings. Preliminary reports suggest that the bomb’s force was equivalent to around 40 kilos of TNT.
According to preliminary information, the explosive device was detonated by a suicide bomber. The owner of the car used for the attack has been detained and is being interrogated, Interfax news agency says.
He claims that on the eve of the tragedy he sold it to an unknown man.
A source in the North Caucasus Federal District law enforcement has said that half an hour before the blast, the driver of the car produced his ID at a checkpoint when entering the republic, though it is possible that the document was fake.
Police say another bomb has been found at the gates of the market, and the area has been evacuated.
Police have cordoned off the site and nearby streets. They have also evacuated schools and kindergartens in the area.
A criminal case has been launched into the incident. Investigators are treating the attack as terrorism.
“The Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as the FSB, are currently identifying those involved in the blast,” head of the republic of North Ossetia Taimuraz Mamsurov told a press conference following the attack. “I completely agree with the need to use the most severe measures to eliminate these monsters.”
The case will now fall under the control of Russia’s chief prosecutor.
Moscow police are strengthening security in connection with the incident. The Emergencies Ministry is sending a plane with aid and medical help for the injured.
The head of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania has arrived there to assess the damage.
President Medvedev has already had a meeting with security ministers to discuss the attack, and has already given his orders on investigating the case. Hopefully, security forces will be vigilant and will prevent a new blast from happening – at least in the next few days [during the Global Policy Forum], said political analyst Dmitry Babich.
“North Ossetia has been a target for terrorist attacks for a long time. I would like to remind you, that Shamil Basayev, when he was alive, called North Ossetia ‘a Russian garrison in the North Caucasus,’ because Ossetian are the only ethnic group in the North Caucasus – besides Russians – which is predominantly Orthodox Christian. Vladikavkaz, and especially its markets, were very often victims of the terrorist attacks,” Babich told RT.
The central market in Vladikavkaz is one of the busiest areas in the city. It has already suffered two terrorist attacks in the past: one in 1999, which killed more than 50 people, and another in 2008, which left 12 more dead.
Matthew Clements, a terrorism expert with Jane’s defense group in London, says the blast in Vladikavkaz is most likely a specific attack against Russia, not part of the wider global terrorist movement.
“The Caucasus insurgents known as the Caucasus Emirate, is a very much localized militant operation, the targets almost entirely based within the North Caucasus itself,” he said.
This attack comes just a month after Russia’s much-talked-about operation against militants in the North Caucasus, where some 40 were killed.
The latest attack in Vladikavkaz looks like an act of retaliation and skeptics say the more militants are killed, the more are born. However, Viktor Kamyshanov, president of the Federation for Peace and Conciliation, says the problem lies much deeper and tight co-operation on all levels is needed.
“Politicians, military, the security forces – they have to think together with the civil society and with spiritual leaders in order to understand what is really going on.”