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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Car Bomb Kills 21 Chechen Civilians

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VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia ? A car bomb exploded near a mosque in a Chechen village, killing at least 21 civilians in one of the deadliest attacks in the breakaway republic in weeks.

The government called Saturday?s blast a terrorist act and blamed Chechen rebels.

At least four suspects have been detained ? one of whom was carrying the identity card of a Chechen police officer, said Colonel General Valery Manilov, the first deputy chief of the army?s General Staff.

"This fact proves the rebels are trying to place their people in the Chechen law enforcement agencies," Manilov was quoted Sunday by Interfax as saying.

The bomb was planted in a Moskvich in the village of Alkhan-Yurt, just south of Grozny, said Igor Botnikov, an aide to the Kremlin?s chief spokesman on the war, Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

The blast killed people who had gathered to view the aftermath of an earlier explosion in the car?s trunk. There apparently was another bomb under the hood that was not discovered by federal troops examining the car, Botnikov said.

"The first explosion was smaller and occurred at about 10 o?clock but no one was hurt," he said by telephone. "Villagers later crowded around the site and the second explosion occurred about an hour later," he said. "The dead and injured were local residents aged 8 to 20."

Officials said no federal troops were hurt.

Sobbing villagers held funerals Sunday for 17 victims in Alkhan-Yurt. Afterward, they held a rally, demanding that Russian officials cleanse the military and police forces in Chechnya of "bandits" who stage such attacks.

The chief military commandant in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev, promised protesting villagers that a police station would be set up in Alkhan-Yurt, Interfax said.

President Vladimir Putin said that restoring Chechnya?s economy remains a formidable task, but insisted that Russia was succeeding in bringing order to the republic.

"There is no longer a malignant tumor on the territory of Russia, the enclave where lawlessness ruled no longer exists," he said during a visit to the Urals region over the weekend.

Justice Minister Yury Chaika and First Deputy Interior Minister Valery Fyodorov met Saturday with Lord Judd, who is leading a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to discuss the war.

The council, Europe?s leading human rights watchdog, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the military offensive, and suspended Russia?s voting rights in protest. Judd said his talks were frank and useful, but would not comment on whether the rights would be restored any time soon.

(AP, Reuters)