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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ticking Bus Bomb Puts Police on Alert

Moscow police were placed on alert Monday one day after a powerful bomb was found on a bus and defused 15 minutes before it was set to go off.

First Deputy Police Chief Vladimir Vasilyev told Interfax that the metro and other means of transportation will get special attention.

An Interior Ministry official told Reuters that had the device exploded, "the bus and everything around it would have been totally destroyed."

The discovery of the bomb Sunday was followed by two bomb threats that proved to be false.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry was unusually forthcoming about its investigation of the bomb that was discovered, saying the device may have been placed by Chechen terrorists.

"One of the versions we are working on is a possible Chechen track, proceeding from the fact that General Dzhokhar Dudayev has more than once spoken of the possibility of shifting military activity and terrorist acts to the territory of Russia," Yevgeny Ryabtsev, deputy head of the ministry's information department, said in a telephone interview.

Ryabtsev said there was evidence of a Chechen connection beyond Dudayev's threats, but that "it is still too early to talk about it."

However Andrei Kostromin, a spokesman for the Moscow branch of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, was more circumspect about a possible Chechen link. "No one thus far can say because the investigation is still being carried out," he said.

Ryabtsev said the police are also investigating a second possible version: that criminals accidentally left the already armed bomb on board the bus. In recent years, bombs have frequently been used for mafia-style score-settling.

The two bomb scares involved the State Duma building which was cleared Sunday after a telephoned threat and a report by an anonymous caller, who warned a police station in the southern Urals city of Orenburg that a passenger jet bound for Moscow had a bomb on board, Interfax reported. The plane landed in Ulyanovsk in the Volga region.

There has been no claim of responsibility for planting the bomb Sunday from any organization, Chechen or otherwise.

Security officials said the device defused Sunday was discovered by the driver of a bus on route 157 on Belovezhskaya Ulitsa in the southern Kuntsevo district at around 4 p.m. The bus had reached its last stop when the driver found a parcel and heard something "ticking" inside.

"The driver found the parcel and called the militia," said Kostromin. The police arrived with special bomb-sniffing dogs, after which the FSB's bomb squad was called in and defused the device at 4:45 p.m.

"It was a homemade explosive device of an electronic type -- based on an electronic clock -- with five 400-gram and two 200-gram TNT blocks," said Kostromin.

At last week's international summit on terrorism in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, President Boris Yeltsin equated attacks against Israel by the Palestinian extremist group Hamas with the activities of "Dudayev's criminal forces."

A series of recent Hamas bombings, including suicide attacks on buses, left 58 people dead.

Some experts contacted Monday questioned whether the Chechen rebels would now adopt similar tactics.

"It is easy to say that the problem of terrorism will get more and more serious as the war in Chechnya continues," said Mikhail Gerasyov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' USA and Canada Institute.

"But at the same time, the war has already been going on for more than one year without the kind of terrorist attacks like bombs on buses," he said.

A random bombing in Moscow by Chechen rebels, said Gerasyov, would be much more detrimental than Budyonnovsk and Pervomaiskoye to Dudayev's strategy of trying to further erode Russian public support for the war.

Another expert said he believed that the presence of an influential Chechen diaspora in Moscow militates against such attacks.

"I have always thought that Moscow is somehow protected against Chechen terrorism because Chechen business quarters have serious interests in Moscow, and they would not want those interests to be jeopardized," said Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "And I think -- I hope -- that the Chechen business people have a fairly good track on the movements of Chechens in and around Moscow."

Last November, a reporter for NTV, Independent Television, found a container of radioactive cesium in Moscow's Izmailovsky Park after Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev told the television company where the container was buried.