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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Chase False Alarms As City Security Tightens

Moscow police over the weekend launched a tough security crackdown in response to last week's two trolleybus explosions and scrambled to investigate a string of false reports about fresh explosions.


Police said Monday the response to an appeal for Muscovites to report any suspicious packages or bags had been overwhelmingly positive, with a record 164 telephone calls received since Friday.


"Of course, it makes it hard to work, but it's better to check every call than to do otherwise," said police spokesman Alexander Serednikov.


Although the calls all proved to be false alarms, police were kept busy investigating leads, checking out 40 reports on Sunday alone of suspicious cloth bags similar to those authorities believe were used in the trolleybus blasts Thursday and Friday that wounded more than 30 people, Interfax reported.


Explosives experts from the Moscow branch of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, blew up one such bag left on a streetcar Sunday night, only to find that it contained nothing but a construction worker's hammer. Plainclothes police in northeastern Moscow also discovered a World War II anti-tank grenade with no fuse placed before a trolleybus stop Sunday, NTV news reported.


Over 1,000 Interior Ministry troops, army soldiers and military cadets are now reportedly patrolling city streets. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Yevgeny Ryaptsev, vacation time for police has been canceled, and police street patrols -- their usual numbers doubled -- now work 24 hours a day and check all ground transportation.


However, there was little evidence Monday of increased security presence.


Three OMON soldiers with automatic rifles and bulging bulletproof vests interrogated dark-skinned pedestrians in front of the Mayakovskaya metro station -- the sole sign of beefed-up patrols for the length of the city's main Tverskaya Ulitsa thoroughfare.


The metro fared little better. Station platforms on the heavily traveled ring line were manned by just one or two unarmed militiamen, with additional support coming only in the form of another unarmed militiaman in bulletproof vest watching ticket turnstyles. Military cadets patrolled inside train wagons, keeping an eye out for suspicious packages. If an explosive is found, cadets have been told only "to tell a policeman," said one cadet at Oktyabrskaya station, who declined to give his name.


No uniformed policemen could be seen at all Monday on several downtown trolleybuses. "I haven't noticed a thing," said Ina Bulgakova, 21, an accountant waiting for a train in the Dobryninskaya station on the ring line, when asked if she was aware of the increased police presence. "I don't feel safe at all."


Trolleybus and bus drivers have been given special instructions by FSB explosives experts on how to respond if an explosive device is found inside an abandoned bag, said police spokesman Serednikov. On NTV's Sunday night news program, "Itogi," one trolleybus driver said the FSB had told drivers to stay calm, evacuate passengers, and hand over all suspicious bags and parcels to police.


Although no group has yet taken responsibility for last week's explosions, officials maintain the blasts are retaliation by Chechen terrorists for Russian air attacks. Sketches were released Saturday to news organizations of two dark-haired men allegedly seen running from the site of the blast Friday on Prospekt Mira, The Associated Press reported.


On Friday, Mayor Yury Luzhkov said police had received a threat from callers with "a southern, Caucasian accent," adding that one caller had warned of an explosion on the metro's busy ring line, Russian television reported. Luzhkov has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprits, Interfax reported.


Working on the Chechen theory, police have begun raiding Moscow apartments and spot-checking pedestrians to weed out "people from southern Russia" who cannot explain the reason for their stay in Moscow. Police are also moving the city's homeless into detention houses to establish their identities and officials places of residence, Ryaptsev said, since "the majority of them are criminal material."