MOSCOW – An explosion on a trolleybus in the city of Volgograd left 10 people dead today, a day after a suicide bombing that killed at least 17 at the city’s main railway.
The explosions put the city on edge and highlighted the terrorist threat that Russia is facing as it prepares to host the Winter Olympic Games in February. Volgograd is 550 miles south of Moscow and about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, where the Olympics are to be held.
The National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the bus explosion was most likely caused by a bomb, but there were no further details.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings in Volgograd, but they came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi games.
Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but many have been contained to the North Caucasus, the center of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. Until recently, Volgograd was not a typical target, but the city formerly known as Stalingrad has now been struck three times in two months, suggesting militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.
The bombings highlight the daunting security challenge Russia will face in fulfilling its pledge to make the Sochi games the “safest Olympics in history.” The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the games.
For the first attack, the railway bombing, officials issued conflicting statements on casualties throughout the day. They also said that the suspected bomber was a woman, but then said the attacker could have been a man.
The Interfax news agency quoted unidentified law enforcement agents as saying that footage taken by surveillance cameras indicated that the rail station bomber was a man. It also reported that it was further proven by a torn male finger ringed by a safety pin removed from a hand grenade, which was found on the site of the explosion.
The bomber detonated explosives in front of a metal detector just beyond the station’s main entrance when a police sergeant became suspicious and rushed forward to check ID, officials said. The officer was killed by the blast, and several other policemen were wounded.
“When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device,” Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation’s top investigative agency, said in a statement earlier in the day. He added that the bomb contained about 22 pounds of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel.
Markin later told Interfax that the attacker could have been a man, but added that the investigation was still ongoing. He said that another hand grenade, which didn’t explode, was also found at the explosion site.
Markin argued that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed. About 40 were hospitalized, many in grave condition.