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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Botched Terrorist Attack in Astrakhan Leaves 4 Dead

Two men who police suspect may be Chechen terrorists tried to blow up a railroad in southern Russia and then killed four people, including three policemen, in a daylong shooting spree before vanishing into the flood plain of the Volga River, officials said Tuesday.

The pair appeared to be natives of the Caucasus, and police said they suspect the men may have been acting on orders from Chechen field commanders who have threatened to stage terrorist acts in Russia to avenge losses suffered in fighting with federal troops.

"The Chechen lead is the strongest we have," Astrakhan police chief Nikolai Blutsard said.

The foiled terrorist attack in the Astrakhan region came shortly before police across the country were ordered to increase security. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo on Monday ordered police to work 12-hour shifts to avert Chechen terrorists attacks.

Moscow's 40,000-strong police force have switched to 12-hour shifts with their vacations canceled, force spokesman Vladimir Vershkov said. He said no reinforcements from regional forces will be dispatched to help city police, as was done last month after the city was rocked by two explosions of apartment buildings.

The saga in Astrakhan began at 1 a.m. Saturday, when a driver spotted two men installing a bomb on a rail line, Blutsard said in a telephone interview. They fired at the driver, who was wounded but managed to speed away.

After being exposed, the terrorists apparently planted the bomb - consisting of TNT sticks - in a rush and failed to put it together properly, the police commander said. The explosion was much weaker than it should have been, and the tracks were not damaged.

A Moscow-Dushanbe passenger train was scheduled to pass the spot - 50 kilometers north of the city of Astrakhan - shortly after the bomb went off, said Miron Briger, spokesman for the Astrakhan regional administration.

Before the terrorists had left the tracks, another car appeared on the road. They fired at it, too, wounding the driver in the head, Briger said.

Having heard the shots, local traffic policeman Sergeant Arkady Petrov rushed to the railroad only to be shot dead by the two terrorists, who were dressed in camouflage uniforms.

The pair then got on an IZh motorcycle and drove to a nearby gas plant, where they fired at police guards with machine guns and grenade launchers. None of the guards was hit, and the terrorists retreated when the guards returned fire, Briger said.

The pair drove into the region's Krasnoyarsky district, where they abandoned the bike and set up an ambush. Four policemen on patrol who spotted the motorcycle at 7 p.m. and stopped to inspect it were attacked by the terrorists. Two were killed and the other two were wounded, while one of the terrorists was hit in the right leg, Briger said.

The terrorists escaped in the UAZ patrol car and drove into the adjacent Kharablinsky district. They bumped into a group of shepherds, shooting two of them and snatching food from them, Briger said. One of the shepherds later died of his wounds, he said.

Police and soldiers have sealed off roads into Kalmykia and Kazakhstan.