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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin: Terrorists May Strike Again

With Russia bogged down in Chechnya, acting President Vladimir Putin warned that more terrorist attacks - like the apartment bombings that rocked Moscow - may be on the way.

"The danger of terrorist acts in Russia is growing," Interfax quoted Putin as telling a meeting of security officials at the Interior Ministry. "The danger of such actions ... will exist until we have crushed the bandits in Chechnya."

Putin said the security organs had information that such attacks were being planned.

About 300 people were killed in apartment bombings in September - two in Moscow and one each in Buinaksk and Volgodonsk in southern Russia. The attacks came soon after Chechen-based militants invaded the neighboring region of Dagestan and were blamed on Chechens, who denied any involvement.

Putin said the bombings were tied to the then-imminent Russian victory in Dagestan, and now that the fighting in Chechnya was nearing an end, Russia could expect a similar wave.

"You recall what happened in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk when we smashed the bandit's faces in Dagestan, when they felt how weak they were in direct combat with us," Putin said.

But even as Putin reiterated his support for strong security services in the face of terrorism, he denied suggestions that he was moving toward a dictatorship.

"There has been talk of an iron hand, of a looming dictatorship. We must not provide a reason for feeding public terror," Putin said at a high-level meeting of the Interior Ministry. Putin's background as a KGB spy during the Soviet period has led some people to question his commitment to democracy.

"Protecting the individual and the rights and freedoms of citizens are basic principles of the Interior Ministry," Putin said Friday. The Interior Ministry is in charge of police.

Putin's remarks come amid a wave of false bomb threats in Moscow and other cities over the past few months. Security is especially tight and tension especially high in southern cities such as Rostov-on-Don, which is not far from Chechnya.

There, late Thursday night, for the second time in three days, residents of several apartment buildings on Startovaya Ulitsa were dragged out of bed because of a bomb threat

Late Thursday night, police received an anonymous telephone tip-off that bombs had been planted in four nine-story apartment buildings on Startovaya Ulitsa, Rostov regional police said.

All 1,000 residents were evacuated and moved to a local school, and the building was cordoned off. Police dogs and about 300 explosives experts and security agents scoured the buildings' basements, attics, corridors and stairwells.

By early Friday, they had turned up nothing and told residents they could return. But many people were still wary and spent a few more hours in the school before reluctantly trudging home in minus 8 degree Celsius weather after sunrise.

Most of the weary residents had undergone a similar ritual just two days earlier. A threat Tuesday night warned of bombs in four apartment buildings on Startovaya Ulitsa - including three that were also targeted Thursday.

Police are pursuing three theories, according to Vyacheslav Vinokurov of the Rostov regional investigative department.

One is a simple prank. Another is that Chechens could be conducting a scare campaign. Yet another is that federal agencies could have staged the scare to check local police preparedness for terrorist acts, he said.

Last September, following the apartment bombings, residents of a building in Ryazan suffered a bomb scare that the Federal Security Service in Moscow later said was just a training exercise.

Many questions have arisen about that scare, with some news media even speculating that the government planned to bomb the building and blame it on Chechen militants to bolster Moscow's plans to invade Chechnya. There has even been news media speculation that the government was behind the September bombings, in order to crank up public support for the coming war.

At the law enforcement meeting, Putin also praised law enforcement organs for keeping criminals from sabotaging December parliamentary elections, and said he hoped they would serve the same function in the March presidential election. Putin is favored to win in that vote.

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo told the meeting that crime in Russia has reached its highest level in years.

Rushailo said that 3 million crimes had been registered across Russia in 1999, many of them serious. Rushailo did not provide comparative figures for other years. But the Interior Ministry said last year that about 2.6 million crimes had been registered in 1998, up from 2.4 million the previous year.

Many observers link the rise in crime data for 1999 to recent orders forbidding police from falsifying crime statistics, a common practice that has been widespread since Soviet times.

Rushailo reiterated the new policy Friday, calling on his subordinates to "break the stereotypes that have taken shape" in police work, including the practice of "concealing crimes."