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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspects in Apartment Bombing Plead Innocent

MAKHACHKALA, Russia - Suspects in a deadly 1999 apartment bombing that helped trigger Russia's military offensive in breakaway Chechnya denied involvement and pleaded for acquittal Monday in a southern Russian court.

Six men have been charged with terrorism in a bombing in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk in September 1999, which killed 64 people and destroyed an apartment building that housed Russian military officers and their families.

Three of the suspects made their closing statements in the Supreme Court of the Dagestan province Monday, after the other three made their statements last week.

All pleaded innocent. One, Isa Zainanudinov, on Monday accused Russia's main security agency of staging the bombing to justify the campaign in Chechnya, which is now in its 18th month.

The court in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala announced a recess until Mar. 19, when a verdict is expected. Prosecutors asked for the death sentence for Zainanudinov and Alisultan Salikhov, and for prison sentences of 20 to 25 years for the others.

Russian officials claimed that the Buinaksk bombing and three others, two in Moscow and one in the southern city of Volgodonsk, were orchestrated by Chechen rebels. The four blasts killed about 300 people total.

Chechen commanders have denied responsibility. But the military soon sent troops into Chechnya, saying a campaign was needed to stamp out terrorism in the region after the bombings and the August 1999 invasion of Dagestani villages by Chechen militants.

Chechnya won de facto independence after Russian forces were defeated in a 1994-6 war with separatists.

Russian investigators reported several arrests in the blasts, but no one has been convicted.