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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Count Hits 90 In Blast




The last charred bodies were dug out of the wreckage of a nine-story apartment building Friday, and the death toll rose to at least 90 from the still unexplained explosion.


While investigators were still trying to determine whether the explosion was a terrorist bomb or the accidental detonation of explosives stored in the building, many were blaming it on Islamic militants fighting Russian troops in Dagestan.


"Being officers of counterintelligence, we are inclined to investigate the worst possible lead ... that is one linked to events in Dagestan," a spokesman for the Federal Security Service's branch in the Moscow area said.


The FSB spokesman, who asked not to be named, said his branch does not rule out that the blast could be linked to the car bomb at the military apartment building in the Dagestani city Buinaksk, which killed more than 60 last Saturday.


An unidentified man with a Caucasian accent called the Interfax news agency on Thursday to claim that both bombings were carried out to avenge the bombing by federal aviation of rebel positions in Dagestan and Chechnya.


This call gave the FSB reason to direct most of its attention to probing the possibility that the building on Ulitsa Guryanova was blown up by terrorists from the North Caucasus, the FSB spokesman said.


Although most officials, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, were leaning toward the likelihood that it was a bomb, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the cause was still under investigation.


"If it was a terrorist action, we're facing a sly, treacherous and bloodthirsty enemy,'' he said in a televised address.


Putin tried to reassure Russians, who have been shaken by a series of explosions and unnerved over the war in the south. "I have no doubt that the federal, Moscow and regional authorities will do all they can to ensure order and discipline, to guarantee maximum security to our citizens,'' Putin said.


President Boris Yeltsin declared a day of mourning Monday for the victims of the blast and of the car bombing in Dagestan.


The explosion in the Moscow apartment building occurred in an empty office on the ground floor and was equivalent to 350 kilograms of TNT, the FSB spokesman said.


He said the explosive was a mixture of industrially manufactured hexogen and trotyl, which probably was set off by several detonators. This would coincide with the accounts of blast survivors, who said they heard a weak explosion just before the blast.


The spokesman noted, however, that it was possible that the explosives were detonated by a careless handler.


Luzhkov said Friday that the explosives were likely planted in the ground-floor office of a company called Delko-2. He said the premises had long been empty and the owners of the company were being questioned.


Police were searching for a man who sublet the Delko-2 office, state television reported.


Two suspects who may have been connected with the office were detained on Friday and were undergoing questioning, Interfax reported, citing unnamed law enforcement officials.


Officials would not comment on news reports that several teenagers were seen carrying cases into the office from a Ford shortly before the explosion. A police detective said the car had been found but its owner didn't appear to have been involved in the blast.


A hard-line Communist leader alleged that the blast was linked to the political feud between Luzhkov, the Kremlin and other forces. Luzhkov is considered a strong favorite to succeed Yeltsin after presidential elections next year, and he has accused Yeltsin and his circle of being jealous of his popularity.


"Political hysteria is being fanned artificially, including by way of explosions, to cancel parliamentary and presidential elections through a state of emergency,'' Viktor Ilyukhin was quoted as saying Itar-Tass.


He called on Luzhkov, who heads the Fatherland movement, to drop out of the political competition.


In addition to the call to Interfax, the Moscow-based correspondent for Deutsche Welle's Russian-language service, Anatoly Dotsenko, said Friday that he had received an anonymous call several days before the explosion.


The caller, who didn't identify himself but spoke with a thick North Caucasian accent, told Dotsenko on Monday that there would be three powerful bombs detonated in Moscow to punish Russia.


Putin signed off Friday on a terrorism-prevention plan drawn up by the FSB and the Interior Ministry, Interfax reported. It gave no details.


Moscow police stepped up security in metro stations and other public places, and swept apartments for alleged criminals from the Caucasus.


Searchers wound up their excavation of the blast site late Friday afternoon, having unearthed a total of 90 bodies. They gave up hope of finding anyone alive.


Cranes used to clear the rubble during the first day after the blast were gone by Friday. Instead, giant excavators shoveled through the debris.


During the first day, emergency workers were hampered by thick smoke coming from underneath the rubble and most bodies were found at night and during the day on Friday after the fire in the basement was finally put out.


But it was clear early on that chances of finding anyone alive were slim, rescue workers said.


"There were practically no empty spaces among the rubble [where bodies could fit]," Vasily Do of Moscow rescue unit No. 2 said.


Nearly 600 rescue workers took part in the two-day operation, working in three shifts.