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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Operation Whirlwind' Catches 27




Russian law-enforcement officials have detained more than two dozen people and have seized tons of explosives in a sweeping effort to investigate three deadly blasts in Moscow - and avert more terrorist attacks, officials said.


Police presence on the streets of the capital remains heavy, with officers checking documents and searching apartment buildings for more bombs.


A police sweep, dubbed "Operation Whirlwind," has resulted in the detention of 27 people since Sept. 9, Deputy Police Chief Alexander Veldyayev said.


Monday's blast on Kashirskoye Shosse killed 119 people, according to the latest Emergency Situations Ministries toll. Police say they suspect a bomb was planted by Islamic terrorists.


A similar blast - apparently from a large bomb on ground-floor premises - killed 94 people on Ulitsa Guryanova on Sept. 8, and a bomb at the Manezh shopping center killed one person and injured at least 40 others.


Veldyayev said the latest two bombings appeared to be the work of the same group, which he said had smuggled 19 tons of explosives disguised as sacks of sugar into Moscow. Police searches turned up more than 17 tons of explosives at a warehouse at 70 Krasnodarskaya Ulitsa in southeastern Moscow, police said.


Officials said they believed that they had not found all the group's explosives.


The explosive material, packed into sacks that bear the logo of a sugar processing plant in the North Caucasus republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, were delivered to the warehouse at the beginning of September, a Moscow police spokesman said.


Veldyayev said investigators have already identified two suspects, using the names Mukhit Laipanov and Denis Saitakov, the police commander said.


The individual using the name Laipanov rented space in the Ulitsa Guryanova and Kashirskoye Shosse buildings. Laipanov died in February and someone else is believed to be using his identity, police said.


Among the detained are two businessmen, one who police said had rented space in one of the buildings to Laipanov, and another who managed a transportation firm that leased the truck believed to have been used to transport the explosives, an official at the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office said. Police were seeking the driver of the truck.


A man with a thick Caucasian accent called Itar-Tass and claimed responsibility for the three Moscow blasts, vowing they would continue if federal forces do not stop bombing Chechen-led Islamic rebels in Dagestan and Chechnya.


The caller claimed responsibility for the three blasts in Moscow and another explosion in Buinaksk, Dagestan, where 64 died. Authorities said they were studying the claim. One person was arrested in connection with the bombing.


Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov on Wednesday linked the bombings to guerrilla leaders Shamil Basayev and Khattab, who are leading rebel forces in Dagestan. They deny the accusation.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the people who carried out the bombing were hiding in the breakaway region of Chechnya, adding that Russia would ask the Chechen government to "hand over the criminals.''


Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev denied any involvement by Chechnya, Reuters reported. He told reporters in the regional capital Grozny: "There is only one conclusion - Russia needs a hot spot to solve its own domestic political problems and its battle for power."


Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo and the armed forces chief of staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, flew to the North Caucasus on Wednesday to launch Operation Whirlwind there, Interfax said.


On Kashirskoye Shosse, several dozen workers from the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service, or FSB, worked into a third straight day Wednesday.


FSB investigators leaving a nearby school, their temporary headquarters, declined to answer questions. "I have been working for three days without sleep, that I can tell you," a uniformed FSB major said.


Municipal workers and soldiers bulldozed the site and removed ruined trees. Rubbish was thrown from the blasted-out windows of the neighboring building, which was damaged.


People laid flowers and candles at a makeshift shrine made of the street-address sign, "6 Korpus 3, Kashirskoye Shosse." Torn and dirty photographs, showing people at a wedding and family gatherings and a young man in his army uniform, had been picked out from the rubble and placed amid flowers.


Yekaterina Levchenkova quietly wept for her cousin, Tatyana Safontseva, one of the dead. "We have just identified her, so I came here," Levchenkova said. "We looked around morgues for three days and now we have found her."


She said Tatyana, who was 42, was identified by a scar on her leg and birthmarks because her face was unrecognizable. Tatyana's husband, Yury, was rescued alive from the rubble.


Lyubov Zomova, a spokeswoman for the City Health Department, said the number of identified bodies rose to 97 Wednesday after victims' friends and relatives overcame their shock and were able to help more with identification.


Of the 94 dead from Ulitsa Guryanova, 79 were identified by Wednesday. Identification was complicated because many owners had rented their apartments and it wasn't clear who was at home at the time.


Teachers at School No. 543, where several of the victims attended school, were removing broken glass as they planned to resume classes Thursday.


Alexander Suvorov, who runs the public assistance headquarters in a nearby apartment building, was dealing with questions of compensation to the victims. A minimum 75,000 rubles (about $2,940) in property compensation will go to those who lost apartments, or to their survivors if they were among the dead, he said. A special commission, will assess the precise amount in each case. Burial subsidy is 15,000 rubles ($590).


Residents of the damaged neighboring building, who have been temporarily resettled, will be able to return when the house is repaired, Suvorov said. Many have said, however, they will not return.