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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Female Suicide Bomber Blows Up Bus

ReutersInvestigators, seen in footage from Rossia television, inspecting the bus outside Mozdok, North Ossetia, where the female suicide bomber blew herself up Thursday.
VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia -- A female suicide bomber detonated shrapnel-filled explosives Thursday near a bus carrying soldiers and civilians to work at a military airfield near Chechnya, killing at least 16 people in the third suicide attack in the Caucasus in less than a month.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on Chechen rebels.

The red-and-white bus was headed from the city of Mozdok in North Ossetia, the military headquarters for operations in Chechnya, to a nearby airfield when a woman approached as it stopped near a railway crossing and blew herself up, officials said. There were conflicting reports about whether the woman -- dressed in a white coat, the customary uniform of medical personnel -- entered the bus or detonated her explosives from outside.

The force of the blast blew out some of the bus's windows, cracked others and left the side of the bus pockmarked with holes and dents. Citing regional prosecutor Alexander Begulov, Channel One television said the bomb had been filled with ball bearings.

A regional Interior Ministry official said 19 people were killed, including the attacker, while prosecutors said the death toll was at least 16. Television showed footage of bodies laid out under white sheets near the bus.

The passengers included an air crew and support workers from the Prokhladny air base 6 kilometers from Mozdok, said North Ossetia's emergency situations minister, Boris Dzgoyev. He said they were members of the 4th Air Army, which serves southern Russia and is based in the city of Rostov-on-Don.

Dzgoyev said there were at least 27 people aboard the bus, including 14 women. Twelve people were hospitalized, three of them in grave condition, he said.

The attack dealt a further blow to the Kremlin's efforts to portray the situation in Chechnya as normalizing after a decade that has seen two wars and widespread lawlessness. Authorities immediately set up roadblocks on all roads leading into Chechnya, causing a massive traffic jam as troops searched cars and checked documents, TVS television reported.

There were already rules in place barring military vehicles from picking up passengers for fear of terrorist attacks, the Interior Ministry official said.

"Unfortunately this is not a solitary case," Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov told President Vladimir Putin in a briefing, referring to suicide attacks. "This was brought to us from other countries. Earlier in the Chechen conflict there were no suicide attackers."

Last month, two suicide bombings in a three-day period in Chechnya killed at least 78 people.

Among Chechen rebels, suicide attacks by women have become an increasingly common tactic. A woman blew herself up at a religious ceremony in Chechnya on May 14, killing at least 18 people, and women draped with explosives took part in a hostage-taking raid on a Moscow theater in October.

In other action, eight soldiers were killed and three wounded in rebel attacks over the last 24 hours, a Chechen official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Federal forces went on bombing raids in the republic's southern mountains, and rounded up 160 people suspected of aiding the rebels.