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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Synagogue Bombing Blamed on Neo-Nazis

Jewish leaders Thursday blamed neo-Nazi groups for a bomb attack on a Moscow synagogue that badly damaged the building but "miraculously" did not cause any fatalities.

Two construction workers were slightly injured in the blast, which rocked the Mariina Roshcha synagogue at 11:05 Wednesday night, blowing a hole in one of the walls, shattering windows and damaging three cars parked outside.

President Boris Yeltsin called the bomb attack a "barbaric act" and said he expected swift action by police to find those responsible, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, classified the attack as an act of terrorism and Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov said he would be taking personal charge of the investigation.

Ten boys were studying on the synagogue's third floor at the time of the blast but escaped unhurt. The explosion happened 10 minutes after several dozen Jewish women students left the building's main hall.

Berel Lazar, Rabbi at the orthodox Lubavitch synagogue, called it a "miracle" that no one was seriously hurt by the bomb, which according to a spokesman for the FSB, a successor to the KGB, contained the equivalent of 500 grams of TNT.

Lazar said the blast was likely linked to the sharp increase in activity by fascist and neo-Nazi groups observed in the last few weeks. "This is clearly anti-Semitism," he said.

He said he did not feel any anti-Semitism among ordinary Muscovites, but added: "There are groups of people parading with swastikas in the streets and giving out leaflets in front of the police. We believe that the same people organized this."

Leading members of the Jewish community in Russia, including chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, Israeli Ambassador Zwi Magen and president of the Russian Jewish Congress, businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, visited the synagogue, to the north of Moscow's city center, on Wednesday.

Dozens of young people were in the synagogue Wednesday night to celebrate the Lag B'Omer holiday. "There was a feeling that the whole building would collapse," said Levi Itzkhok, a 17-year-old student who was on the third floor of the synagogue when the blast went off.

The two workers injured were employees of the Mospribstroi construction company who had been working at a nearby construction site. One of the two was hospitalized.

Undeterred by the attack, several hundred Jewish children and young people went ahead with planned celebrations of the holiday Thursday, parading from the synagogue to the nearby Russian Army Theater.

"Not only will we not be intimidated by this act, we will go forward with even more strength and determination in re-building Jewish life in Russia," Lazar said.

The Rabbi said an anonymous caller rang the local police precinct last week and said a bomb had been planted at the synagogue. Police searched the building but found no explosives.

The synagogue has been the subject of attacks before: In August 1996, a small explosive device went off outside the synagogue, and in December, 1993, the wooden synagogue which stood on the same site was burnt down. No one was arrested for either offence.

Gusinsky, the founder of the MOST Group financial and media empire, said that Wednesday's attack may be related to a recent arson attempt at a synagogue in Moscow's northern suburb of Otradnoye, and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the Siberian city of Irkutsk earlier this week.

"This is starting to assume a frightening character for Russia," he said. "People who carry swastikas in a country which lost 20 million people in World War II ... are criminals," Gusinsky said. "The authorities' inactivity is dangerous for the country itself."

In a statement released Wednesday, the Moscow city government promised to pay for repairs to the synagogue.

"The Moscow city government guarantees that it will not ignore extremist actions by irresponsible people who have insulted the feelings of all Muscovites by their shameless deed," the statement said.