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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Radical Nationalists Suspected in Train Attack

Radical Russian nationalists could have carried out Sunday's bombing of a passenger train traveling from Grozny to Moscow, investigators said Tuesday.

"We consider this version on a par with a plot by Chechen terrorists," Yelena Rassokhina, a spokeswoman for the Moscow region prosecutor's office, which is in charge of the investigation, said by telephone Tuesday.

Citing the ongoing investigation, she refused to disclose what evidence had prompted investigators to put radical Russian nationalists on the list of prime suspects.

A homemade bomb went off at about 7:10 a.m. under the locomotive of the passenger train, which was 150 kilometers south of Moscow, derailing the locomotive and four passenger cars. No one was killed, but three injured passengers remained in Moscow hospitals as of Tuesday afternoon, Interfax reported.

An unnamed explosives expert from the investigation team told Interfax on Tuesday that the bomb had been assembled "utterly unprofessionally."

According to Russian media reports of investigators' findings, explosives equivalent to 3 kilograms of TNT were detonated by a toggle switch and six ordinary household electric batteries mounted on a piece of plywood. Investigators also found 50 meters of thin telephone cable connecting the bomb to the detonator.

"You get the feeling that one terrorist read a printout of 'The Terrorist Cookbook' from the Internet, and another one used these sketches to make a bomb," the explosives expert said, Interfax reported. He added, however, that the bomb could have been the work of a skilled explosives expert seeking to mislead investigators.

The experts said that the bomb bore similarities to the one used in March's ambush of Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais. Three retired military officers connected to nationalist organizations were arrested in the attack and law enforcement agencies put three other people on wanted lists.

No group had claimed responsibility for the bombing as of Tuesday afternoon, and political analysts were divided as to whether in Chechen rebels or radical Russian nationalists had likely carried out the attack. Other theories, such as an attack by hooligans or aggrieved Chechen war veterans, were largely discounted.

"Planting explosives under a train can be done only with ideological motives," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Alexander Verkhovsky, a researcher with the Moscow-based Sova think tank specializing in radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, said that neo-Nazis appeared to be most motivated for such an attack.

"They may feel that beating dark-skinned migrants on the streets is no longer an effective way to 'cleanse' Russian cities," he said. "Bombing a train coming from the Caucasus sends a much stronger signal and is much easier and safer to do."

He said that neo-Nazi groups probably did not fear arrest, due to the poor track record of law enforcement agencies in catching the perpetrators of such attacks.

"Whenever we are shown someone tried and prosecuted in terrorism cases, there is often a doubt that the right person is being punished," he said. "Neo-Nazis feel the same way and if a Chechen were to be tried in a bombing they carried out, it would suit them fine."

Russian neo-Nazis have been suspected of involvement in several smaller bomb attacks, including the planting of a hand grenade attached to an anti-Semitic poster near a highway outside Moscow in 2002. A woman who picked up the poster was badly wounded.

Alexander Savostyanov, leader of Russia's biggest radical nationalist group, the National Power Party of Russia, said by telephone Tuesday that nationalists would never bomb a train from Chechnya "because there were Russians among the passengers and crew."

He said, however, that he would not rule out that some fringe element or mentally disturbed individuals in Russian nationalist circles could have bombed the train.

Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies said that the bombing fitted the pattern of previous attacks outside Chechnya claimed by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

"If this attack had taken place anywhere in the North Caucasus, there would be not much fuss about it. But when it happened in the Moscow region, it was a shock for many here," he said.

The resumption of train services between Grozny and Moscow has been trumpeted by the Kremlin as a sign of peace returning to Chechnya, and so rebels could have seen the train as a legitimate target, Makarkin said.

The amateurish attack could have been due to the Chechen resistance movement running short of trained fighters, he said.