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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Blast Kills 41, Injures 110

APA woman whose sister and four nephews are missing crying as she stands near what is left of a government building destroyed by the blast in Znamenskoye on Monday.
VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia -- A truck laden with explosives blew up Monday outside a government compound in northern Chechnya, reducing eight brick buildings to rubble and killing at least 41 people, including six children. President Vladimir Putin called the attack an attempt to derail a political resolution to the more than 3 1/2-year-old war.

Most of the victims were government employees, who had returned to the office after May holidays, and local residents, taking advantage of the first working day after a long holiday period to settle government-related business, emergency officials said.

The blast, which exploded with a force of at least 1.2 metric tons of TNT, completely destroyed a regional government administration building in Znamenskoye and severely damaged the two-story office of the Federal Security Service, which is leading the military campaign in Chechnya.

Six small homes, each housing several families, also were leveled in the blast, emergency officials said.

Major-General Ruslan Avtayev said that 41 people, including six children under 12 years old, were killed and more than 110 people were hospitalized. Fifty-seven victims were in grave condition, many pulled severely wounded from under the debris, Avtayev said.

No one claimed responsibility, but officials immediately blamed Chechen rebels. Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying three suicide bombers, including one woman, carried out the attack.

"All such actions are aimed at one thing: stopping the process of the settlement of the situation in Chechnya, the process of political settlement," Putin told Cabinet members in televised comments. "We cannot and will not allow anything of the kind."

Putin ordered the Prosecutor General's Office and the FSB to report to him on an investigation plan.

Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration, said the attack appeared an effort by rebels to "reanimate themselves in the eyes of the republic's population and overseas clients. ... They are trying to prove, at any cost, that they are still strong," Interfax reported.

Chechen voters in March overwhelmingly approved a Kremlin-promoted constitution that cements the region's status as part of Russia. Moscow, which has refused to negotiate with rebel leaders, has called the referendum a key step on the road to peace. But Monday's blast underlined the violence that continues to roil Chechnya. In December, a truck bomb at the headquarters of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration in Grozny killed 70 people.

FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev said Monday that a KamAZ truck carrying explosives blew up after it was halted at a security barrier about 30 meters from a concrete wall that protects the government buildings. However, the chief of police in the Nadterechny district, Usman Tunguzbiyev, said the truck crashed through the barrier and soldiers standing guard opened fire.

The blast left a crater some 5 meters deep and 10 meters wide. TVS television said the blast knocked out electricity and water for the whole town.

The military blocked off the area where rescue workers searched through the debris, and anxious residents crowded around trying to find out about their relatives. One woman said her sister and four nephews were missing; another man frantically hunted through the rubble for a missing toddler.

Northern Chechnya is considered the most stable district. It was the first area to come under the control of the federal forces that entered the republic in 1999, starting the republic's second war in a decade.