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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Blast Date Coincides With U.S. Tragedy

The mourning following the deadly terrorist assault on the United States coincided with the second anniversary of the most devastating in a series of apartment blasts that rocked Russia in 1999, killing some 300 people.

Starting before dawn Thursday, relatives of those who lived at 6 Kashirskoye Shosse began gathering in the courtyard in southern Moscow where a chapel now marks the spot where the nine-story brick building once stood. The blast -- which hit at 5 a.m., reducing the building to a smoking heap of rubble -- killed 124 people, including 13 children.

The worst in a wave of explosions that kept the nation in terror for months, the blast on Kashirka, as the thoroughfare is commonly called, left only two survivors.

Rescuers attributed the high casualty count to the building's brick construction, which -- unlike concrete slabs -- collapsed in a tightly packed pile, leaving no pockets of space for survivors.

Two years after the tragedy, investigations of the explosions in Moscow and the southern town of Volgodonsk have made little progress.

Law enforcement officials have been saying for months that they know the identities of the plotters, but have been unable to catch them.

Achemez Gochiyayev, 31, is the top suspect in masterminding the Moscow bombings -- a smaller-scale Russian counterpart to Osama bin Laden. Gochiyayev is No. 1 on the most-wanted list displayed on the web site of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

According to earlier statements by investigators, Gochiyayev -- a native of Karachayevo-Cherkessia and a staunch Wahhabi, the follower of a strict Islamic sect -- was trained in terrorist camps set up in Chechnya by Jordanian-born warlord Khattab. Investigators have said Khattab ordered the blasts and paid Gochiyayev and four accomplices $500,000 for their execution, then helped the men hide in Chechnya. The FSB has also blamed Gochiyayev for plotting a series of new attacks, which the agency claims to have averted.

In one such case, five suspected plotters are on trial in the southern city of Stavropol. Taukan Frantsuzov, Gochiyayev's brother-in-law, is among the defendants, all of whom are also charged with participating in "illegal armed formations" in Chechnya. At the start of the closed trial, prosecutors demanded 25 years for each suspect.

Some media reports linked Frantsuzov with the Moscow bombings on Ulitsa Guryanova and Kashirskoye Shosse, but others said the allegations arose because in July 1999 Gochiyayev came to Moscow and used Frantsuzov's passport to register in a hotel.

Vadim Romanov, chief investigator of Stavropol's regional prosecutor's office, said law enforcement officials had not found any evidence of Frantsuzov's involvement in the bombings.

"They [the five defendants] are being charged with preparing new terrorist attacks in Moscow but not of carrying out the Moscow bombings," Romanov said in a telephone interview from Stavropol on Thursday.

Asked for more details on the progress of the investigation, the FSB's press service in Moscow declined to comment. "We are too busy here now because of these bombings in America," an FSB spokesman said.

Of the four blasts that shook Russia in the fall of 1999, only one has resulted in convictions. Last March, a court in Dagestan sentenced two men to life in prison and gave lighter sentences to four others for blowing apart a 50-apartment residential building in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk. The blast claimed the 62 lives.