A portable grenade launcher set up on the busy Garden Ring Road at rush hour Wednesday blasted a round into the sixth floor of the U.S. Embassy in an attack by unknown assailants.
No one was injured in the blast that struck the stone exterior of the stately yellow-and-white building at 4:25 p.m., said embassy spokeswoman Olivia Hilton. The impact was absorbed by a large photocopying machine that shielded the interior from flying glass and fragments, she said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack or explanation of what provoked it.
Russia’s Independent Television newscast said the single rocket-propelled grenade blast was probably carried out by political extremists angered by U.S. backing for NATO airstrikes against Bosnian Serb allies.
But speculation also centered on Moscow’s powerful mafia circles, with the FBI a potential target of retaliation for its raids on a major Russian-Armenian criminal ring in Southern California this week. The type of portable grenade launcher used in the attack is known to be readily available to professional crime syndicates in Russia.
Police found the grenade launcher with army markings in an archway across the 12-lane Garden Ring Road about half an hour after the blast, the embassy reported in a statement. Also found were a black full-face mask, a glove and a paper bag in which investigators believe the weapon was carried to the scene.
There had been no warning of the attack, Hilton said.
Windows were shattered on the fifth and sixth floors of the building near the point of impact, and glass and fragments of shell casing littered the sidewalk along the front of the embassy.
All occupants of the embassy were evacuated immediately after the explosion. The Moscow embassy is among the U.S. government’s largest foreign missions, with more than 950 American and Russian employees.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering was in Washington on annual leave and no employees were in the copying room at the time of the detonation, Hilton said.
Although both Russian and U.S. officials said an investigation was continuing, the TASS news agency quoted Russian law enforcement officials as saying the lone attacker “has escaped.”
In Washington, the White House and the State Department condemned the attack - which came at a time of strained relations between Russia and the U.S. - and quickly absolved the Russian government of responsibility.