Firecrackers Clear Manezh Mall

ReutersPeople evacuating the Okhotny Ryad shopping center Thursday evening after two sets of firecrackers went off.
Hundreds of people were evacuated Thursday evening from the Okhotny Ryad underground shopping center near Red Square after a pack of firecrackers was set off on the steps of the mall, city authorities said.

City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said at the scene that no one was injured in the incident, though Interfax cited an unidentified emergency worker as saying five people suffered from smoke inhalation.

The firecrackers went off shortly before 6 p.m., sparking a panic in the shopping center, Biryukov said. The sound from the firecrackers was powerful enough to be heard in the State Duma building across the street.

"We heard a strong blast outside the Duma but saw nothing damaged, and not a single window was shattered here," Alexander Yushchenko, a spokesman for the Communist Party faction, said by telephone from the Duma.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov arrived at the scene and told reporters that firecrackers had been set off and that "the situation is under control."

Biryukov said the incident was an act of hooliganism and that investigators were studying footage from security cameras to identify any suspects.

In a bizarre turn of events, moments after Biryukov made the statement — at around 7:30 p.m. — there was a loud popping sound at the mall's other entrance, prompting police officers, rescue workers and journalists to rush toward the sound.

Police managed to cordon off journalists, and Biryukov emerged several minutes later to announce that Emergency Situations Ministry officers had spotted an abandoned plastic bag outside the entrance and decided to "shoot at it."

The popping sound, Biryukov said, came from a jar of jam that was inside the bag. He did not elaborate, nor would he explain why some police officers and rescue workers were not notified about the bag, or why emergency officers had decided to shoot at it.

Sappers typically use a water cannon to try to break apart suspicious objects if they believe there could be an explosive device inside.

Staff Writer Nabi Abdullaev contributed to this report.