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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

There Was No Ryazan Bomb - It Was a Test

A bomb scare in Ryazan that drove thousands of terrified residents out of their homes late at night was unmasked Friday as only an exercise by the Federal Security Service to test local vigilance.

The people and police of Ryazan passed the test with flying colors, but they were outraged that the FSB would play such a game.

FSB director Nikolai Patrushev announced Friday on NTV television that the dummy bomb had been planted in the basement of the 12-story apartment building Wednesday evening as a training exercise.

Ryazan's unsuspecting police evacuated residents of the building on Ulitsa Novosyolov, which has 77 apartments, and kept them out in the cold as sappers moved the suspected bomb out of the basement.

The residents - including elderly and disabled people, pregnant women and children - spent several hours outside before they were offered a place for the night in a nearby movie theater.

Thousands of people from several other apartment buildings also fled their homes in a chain reaction of bomb scares throughout Ryazan, a city with a population of 500,000 located 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

It was a resident of the Ulitsa Novosyolov building, identified by a neighbor as bus driver Alexei Kartofelnikov, who spotted two strangers unloading sacks from a car shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Kartofelnikov alerted police, who found three sugar sacks wired to a timer and a rifle cartridge filled with gunpowder in the basement. Initial tests showed there could be some explosives in the sacks. They were disconnected from the timer and moved to a safe place.

Patrushev said "this was not an explosion foiled ... it was an exercise." All three sacks contained only sugar.

The FSB chief said "this exercise was staged not only in Ryazan," implying that similar dummies were planted in other cities but local police failed to spot them.

He did not elaborate, and the FSB public relations center in Moscow would not comment on their commander's statement.

Patrushev praised the local police and population for spotting the dummy bomb seven hours before it was timed to "go off" at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

No one, however, was pleased by the compliment.

"This is disgusting ... to keep us all out on the streets for hours, to send the whole city into a frenzy," said Tatyana Borycheva, who lives in the evacuated building.

"There were old and sick people among us. What if someone had a heart attack," Borycheva said. "I wish those who ordered this exercise suffered as much as we did."

She said a deaf old woman and a legless man were left behind in the apartment building. Police, though, said the whole building was cleared.

"Now we all take turns guarding our building even though authorities installed a steel door at the basement entrance," Borycheva said.

The Ryazan police force, which had 1,200 servicemen combing the city for more explosives, was equally outraged.

"I can't believe it was an exercise. ... I can't imagine a thing that would have been more stupid to do than this exercise," police spokesman Vladimir Golev said.

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, whose ministry oversees the police, didn't help matters by publicly praising his subordinates Friday for finding the "bomb."

The local administration and even the local FSB office were not notified about the exercise, which threatened to cause panic throughout the city.

Thursday evening, after sappers determined that the sugar sacks contained no explosives, local FSB spokesman Yury Bludov said the whole incident could have been a "stupid joke." He could not be reached Friday.

Ryazan police and the local branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said they massed their personnel around Ulitsa Novosyolov and would not have been able to react quickly if an accident had occurred in an another part of the city.

"It would have taken us a great deal of time and effort to re-deploy our forces," the region's emergency situations chief Gennady Shmidt said.

The combing of the city turned out not to be totally fruitless, however, according to the speaker of the regional parliament. Interfax reported him as saying that police found a real bomb in the basement of another apartment building Wednesday night, but he did not elaborate.

Shmidt and Golev said Ryazan's police and rescue forces have received sufficient training to respond to bomb attacks since a powerful blast destroyed an apartment building in southeast Moscow on Sept. 8, killing more than 100 people.

"Our training is adequate. There is no need for alarming the whole city," Shmidt said.

Irina Shornikova, spokeswoman for the Ryazan region governor, said her boss had not been notified of the exercise. "It is outrageous," she said Friday by telephone.

Later Friday, FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich appeared on television to "apologize to the residents of Ryazan for the inconvenience and the emotional shock." He said those who planned the exercise had hoped experts would immediately recognize the device was harmless and call off the security alert.

Radio station Ekho Moskvy quoted an unidentified security officer as saying people might now start thinking that the FSB was behind the real explosions, Reuters reported. "We are shocked and confused by Patrushev's comments," the officer said.

Federal officials have blamed the deadly blasts in Moscow on Chechen-based terrorists, despite little evidence.

Composite sketches of the two men who planted the dummy bomb in Ryazan and their female "accomplice" made them appear to be natives of the Caucasus. Thursday, however, FSB and police spokesmen had said the suspects were Slavic in appearance. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

Alexander Iskandryan, the head of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Moscow said he was alarmed by the FSB's choice of Caucasians to plant the dummy bomb.

Iskandryan said anti-Caucasian bias in Russia is already running strong "thanks to federal officials' allegations against Chechens."

"Another blast could even set off ... Caucasian pogroms, no matter who carries it out," he warned.

Officials in Ryazan said the city's Slavic population has not turned against Caucasians and no harassment has been reported.

Russian newspapers took the whole incident seriously. In a front-page story, Kommersant reported Friday that the substance did not go off because the terrorists miscalculated the proportion of explosive and sugar in the sacks.

Kommersant stringer Nadezhda Kurbacheva, who spent several hours with the evacuated to contribute to the story, said she was "disgusted by such a lie."

On Friday, an explosive device was found near a school building in the southern city of Stavropol, Interfax reported.

The area was cordoned off and sappers removed the timing mechanism. The most dangerous part of the bomb was destroyed in an explosion, which broke windows in three stories of surrounding buildings, the report said.

Another explosive device was found and defused Friday near a naval administration building in the Far Eastern port of Nakhodka, Itar-Tass said.

There was no word on whether those bombs could also have been part of a vigilance drill.