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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Scramble for Leads to Bombing Suspects

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Investigators continued Tuesday to try to untangle a web of suspects who could have been involved in three car bombings in southern Russia last weekend, while their superiors remained divided over how many people have been detained and who most likely ordered the blasts.

Three cars packed with explosives exploded in the Stavropol region cities of Mineralniye Vody and Yessentuki and in the nearby Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic on Saturday, killing 23 people and wounding about 140.

More cars packed with explosives have been found in the North Caucasus since then and defused before they could go off, said Alexander Korobeinikov, the deputy of the presidential envoy in southern Russia, on Russian television Tuesday. He did not elaborate.

Law enforcement officials have not hesitated to blame the explosions on Chechen rebels, but Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Ekho Moskvy radio station on Tuesday that the "Chechen trail is preliminary."

Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev has said Chechen commander Khattab was responsible for the blasts.

So far, authorities have detained one man who was caught red-handed while transporting explosives in his car and has confessed to planning a terrorist act in the southern city of Nevinnomyssk, said Alexander Gavrilenko, spokesman for the Karachayevo-Cherkessia police force, by telephone from Cherkessk. The suspect was shown on television Monday with a bruised face.

Three more suspects who could have played a role in organizing the explosions were detained in Grozny on Sunday, said Chechen prosecutor Vsevolod Chernov. He said the three men were suspected of planting the car bombs on the orders of Chechen warlord Arbi Barayev.

None of the suspects, however, resemble composite sketches of four men who bought the three cars in Nevinnomyssk and then presumably packed them with explosives, said an aide to Chernov in a telephone interview from Grozny on Tuesday. One person resembling one of the four sketches was detained in the Stavropol region on Monday, a local traffic police officer told NTV.

An aide to Yastrzhembsky said there have been "several" suspects detained and composite sketches for "several more" have been distributed across southern Russian.

Alexander Chernogorov, governor of the Stavropol region, said suspects were being detained "practically every hour."

Gavrilenko identified the man arrested in Karachayevo-Cherkessia as Arasul Khubiyev, a 24-year-old Karachai.

Khubiyev was driving to Nevinnomyssk when stopped near the settlement of Adyge-Khabl by a traffic policeman. A search of his car revealed explosives concealed in the fuel tank, but before sappers could defuse the bomb, the vehicle exploded, killing the two sappers.

Khubiyev told investigators that the three explosions were organized by Khattab follower Urasul Dzhanibekov and that a 31-year-old Lack named Khadzhimurat Debirov helped to buy the cars in Nevinnomyssk, according to Gavrilenko.

Gavrilenko said Dzhanibekov was hiding somewhere in Chechnya, but would not comment on Debirov's whereabouts.

Debirov's brother Durakhmat Debirov was quoted in Kommersant in Tuesday's issue as saying he doubted his brother could have been involved in a terrorist act.

Bombs used in Saturday blasts and in the 1999 apartment building explosions were made of identical components, including aluminum powder, according to law enforcement officials.

Investigators have tracked down a plant near Chechnya where bolts and screws that were used in the bombs that went off Saturday were manufactured, Yastrzhembsky said Tuesday.