ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed extremists “without souls, without hearts” for a suicide car bombing that killed 17 people Thursday in the crowded central market of a city in the North Caucasus.
It was the fourth terrorist attack at the market in a decade, and while no one claimed responsibility, the Kremlin has been trying to contain Islamic militancy in the mountainous southern region of Russia.
Nearly 140 were wounded in the bombing in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, with about a half-dozen hospitalized in very serious condition.
Putin met with Russia’s top Muslim cleric after the blast and said Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims should play a key role in eradicating Islamic extremism in the nation.
“The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens. We mustn’t allow this,” Putin said in televised remarks at the meeting.
The bomber drove to the market’s main entrance and detonated the explosives, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. The blast tore the car in half, littered the market square with shrapnel and blew out windows in nearby buildings, according to nationally broadcast video.
The bomber was identified as a resident of neighboring Ingushetia, the independent Kavkazsky Uzel website reported, quoting an unidentified official.
The death toll included the bomber, and 98 of the 138 people wounded in the explosion were hospitalized, said Alexander Pogorely of the Emergency Situations Ministry.
Three suspected accomplices of the bomber were detained, federal security chief Alexander Bortnikov said in televised remarks.
Putin blamed the violence on “people without souls, without hearts. They literally hold nothing sacred. Our common duty is to fight these crimes, these criminals.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged investigators to “do everything to track down the freaks, the lowlifes who conducted that terror attack.”