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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bomb Blamed in Stavropol Bus Blast

APThe wreckage of a bus in Nevinnomyssk, in the Stavropol region, after an explosion on Sunday killed two passengers.
A bus blast that killed two women and injured 14 others in southern Russia over the weekend was the result of an explosive device, investigators said Monday.

The bomb went off at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday while the bus was making a planned stop in Nevinnomyssk, a town in the Stavropol region, and the number of casualties would likely have been much higher if the bus had been on the road and full of passengers, Kommersant reported Monday.

Many of the passengers were outside taking a break when the explosion tore through the bus, which was heading from Stavropol to Pyatigorsk.

Besides the two dead women, identified as Susanna Gazoryan and Yelena Tarasova, 14 others were injured in the blast, Interfax reported, citing a source in the regional Emergency Situations Ministry. Five victims remained hospitalized as of Monday afternoon.

Photographs showed the gutted, charred shell of a bus with its windows shattered and the back of its roof lifted upward by the force of the explosion.

The bomb had the equivalent of 500 grams to 1 kilogram of TNT, an unidentified law enforcement source said, Interfax reported.

A criminal investigation has been opened on charges of murder and the illegal use of explosives, dismissing initial reports that the accidental explosion of a gas canister might have triggered the blast.

"A group of investigators from the main criminology department of the Investigative Committee has been sent to the crime scene," the committee, a semiautonomous body under the auspices of the Prosecutor General's Office, said in a statement.

A woman who answered the phone at the committee's branch in Yessentuki, where the bombing investigation is based, referred all questions to the committee's press service in Moscow. A spokesman for the committee in Moscow said he would not comment beyond what was in the statement.

Nevinnomyssk police have released a composite sketch of the suspected bomber, described as a thin, dark-haired, dark-eyed man aged 20 to 25, Interfax reported.

Stavropol Governor Alexander Chernogorov called for citizens to be on the lookout for terrorist activity. "The situation demands an intensification of the activities of civic groups: Cossacks, volunteers and local self-defense leagues," he said in a statement on his official web site.

The Nevinnomyssk bombing comes less than a month after a similar explosion killed six people in a neighboring region. The Nov. 22 blast hit a bus on the border between North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Authorities classified it as a terrorist attack and said it could have been the work of a suicide bomber.

Authorities are looking into the possibility that the two bombings might be linked, Interfax quoted a senior investigator as saying.

Both the Stavropol region and North Ossetia border Chechnya, the restive North Caucasus republic that was the site of two separatist wars in the 1990s.

In October, a powerful blast ripped apart a passenger bus in the car-manufacturing city of Tolyatti, killing eight and injuring at least 54. Authorities classified the explosion as a terrorist attack.