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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Year, a Plaque, but Still No Answers

A year after a makeshift bomb exploded in the underground passageway at Pushkin Square, the place has the feel of an empty gray cement basement.

The passages have been renovated but the colorful kiosks have not been allowed to return to the areas damaged by the blast. The only thing there now is a marble plaque commemorating the "victims of the terrorist act" on Aug. 8, 2000.

But no terrorist has been found, and investigators have not even been able to determine the motive for the bombing, which left 13 people dead and 118 injured. Terrorism is only one of three possibilities.

"The criminal case on the blast in the underground passage at the Pushkinskaya metro station remains unsolved," the Moscow city prosecutor's office said in a statement Tuesday. "Currently there are no people detained for or charged with this crime."

The Pushkin Square bombing is one of the most high-profile cases in the city's recent history, and the failure to solve it is all the more glaring in light of city and federal authorities' repeated pledges to do away with terrorism and violence tied to organized crime. So far, the only thing that the year-long investigation has managed to establish is the sequence of events just before the blast.

According to the prosecutor's office, the explosive device that tore the passage apart was a mixture of TNT and hexogen combined with nuts and bolts. The press release said a motorcycle battery also was used, presumably as a detonator. The bomb was packed in two containers — a briefcase and a plastic bag — that were left by two unidentified men at kiosk No. 52 at 5:50 p.m., eight minutes before the explosion.

The men said they would have to change money to pay for their purchases. They were seen running out of the passageway a minute before the blast, which happened at 5:58 p.m.

Neither of them has been found, even though federal criminal police told Interfax on Tuesday they have received around 20,000 telephone calls from people who thought they saw men who looked like the two composite sketches posted around the city.

The police and prosecutor's office refused to answer questions about the investigation. The statements released by both agencies were filled with statistics describing the hard but futile work of their investigators.

More than 30,000 people were "checked," and 15 of them were arrested for other crimes: illegal possession of weapons, munitions, explosives or drugs, the federal police told Interfax. More than 2,300 people were detained "for different transgressions," they added.

The prosecutors' statement gives the numbers of homes and companies searched (more than 6,000) and kiosks closed (116) as a result of these searches, albeit for reasons not connected with the Pushkin Square bombing.

At one point, the probe focused on the so-called Kemerovo gang, the prosecutor's office said. Two of its members were arrested and sentenced to several years in prison after weapons and drugs were found at their homes. "However, their connection to the bombing was not proven," the release said.

The investigators said they still have three equally likely possible motives: a terrorist attack, a criminal showdown and the settling of personal accounts.

Immediately after the blast, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov hurried to announce that there was a "Chechen trail" to the bombing, and police in the first few days concentrated almost solely on detaining city residents with Chechen names or of Caucasian origin. The federal authorities, on the other hand, insisted from the beginning that all three possible versions should be investigated.

Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the human rights group Civic Assistance, recalls being busy at the time recording the numerous detentions of Moscow Chechens and the reports of police abuse that followed.

"There is a Russian joke about a person who loses his wallet in the dark and goes searching for it under a street lamp — because at least there is some light there," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Our police remind me of such a person: They went after the Chechens who were registered in Moscow, while the real culprits were already far away."

For Tamara Ivanovna, a vendor in one of the kiosks in the underpass who witnessed the blast, the real culprits are simply "evil people," and evil has no ethnicity. "It was done by a scoundrel," she said, declining to give her last name.

In the days after the blast, people came to the site to lay flowers and light candles for the victims. Long lines of people wanting to donate blood for the injured formed outside medical clinics.

The city government initially considered the idea of closing all the kiosks in all the underground passages in Moscow for security reasons, but soon thought better of it. They are the main source of income for a small army of traders and vendors, and closing them would have left thousands of people jobless as well as cut the city's tax revenues. The idea of banning sales of easily flammable substances in the passages also was considered and then silently dropped. The kiosks under Pushkin Square still sell perfume and nail polish.

The kiosks were not replaced in the passages closest to the blast site, but further down the main passageway there are gleaming new kiosks — the reconstruction was finished in May. Vendors complain that their new work places look nicer but are smaller and not as comfortable as the old ones. But they also say they feel quite safe working in the passageway.

"It's cozy and well-guarded," said Vera, an 18-year old vendor of cosmetics, who declined to give her last name. "I feel quite safe here."

But Tamara Ivanovna said she still fights the anxiety every time she comes to work. "But what can we do? All of life is extreme here. It's either work here or starve," she shrugged.

She said the new regulations make her feel safer — vendors can't leave their garbage in the passage anymore, so strange bags would be more likely to be noticed. And the new lighting system guarantees that if something happens, people would at least be able to run out instead of tripping over one another like they did after the blast.

But one thing she is sure of. "A year has passed and they haven't found the culprits. For me that means they will never find them."