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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bomb Derails St. Pete-Bound Train

InterpressA train crew member carrying his belongings Tuesday away from the site of an explosion near the village of Malaya Vishera, 500 kilometers from Moscow.
A blast from a bomb planted under the tracks derailed an express train heading from Moscow to St. Petersburg Monday night, injuring more than two dozen people in an attack prosecutors are investigating as a terrorist act.

The Nevsky Express jumped the tracks after an explosion at 9:38 p.m. near the city of Novgorod, about 500 kilometers north of Moscow, the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement released Tuesday. Most of the injuries occurred when the train's restaurant car rolled over on its side.

"A homemade explosive device was placed under the right rail," Yekaterina Mirishova, a spokeswoman for regional transport prosecutors, said by telephone Tuesday.

The blast left a crater 1.5 meters wide and had a force equivalent to 4.5 kilograms of TNT, said Adolf Mishuyev, head of the Explosion Stability Technical Center at Moscow State Civil Engineering University.

Seventeen people had been hospitalized at the St. Petersburg Railroad Hospital as of Tuesday afternoon, out of a total of 27 people injured, Mirishova said.

Some victims were initially hospitalized in Novgorod and the nearby town of Malaya Vishera, but all were later transferred to St. Petersburg, said Valentin Yushkevich, a spokesman for the regional division of the Federal Security Service.

No deaths were reported.

Russian Railways said 231 tickets had been sold for the train and that there were 20 crew members aboard.

The Tuesday night "Vesti" news broadcast on Rossia television showed injured passengers providing accounts of the blast.

"We crawled out ourselves, then started helping others," said Pavel Tereshkov, one of the passengers.

Rossia also showed President Vladimir Putin speaking by mobile phone from the Siberian region of Tuva with Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, who interrupted a working trip to Sochi to visit the scene of the explosion. Putin, who was playing host to Prince Albert II of Monaco, ordered Levitin to make sure all the passengers were being cared for properly.

If the blast is proved to have been a terrorist attack, it will be the first outside the volatile North Caucasus in more than two years. The last took place in June 2005, when a Grozny-Moscow train was derailed by an explosive device in the Moscow region. Two Russian ultranationalists were convicted of that bombing in April.

Rossia reported that investigators found several meters of electrical wire near the site of Monday's explosion, suggesting that the perpetrators waited near the tracks and triggered the device as the train passed. The case was the same in the June 2005 blast.

"This was a very well-planned terrorist explosion," said Mishuyev, whose center conducted its own investigation into the blast in cooperation with investigators at the scene.

Mishuyev said the effects of the blast could have been much worse if it had hit the head of the train. The explosion occurred under the train's ninth car, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported, citing a source in the Emergency Situations Ministry.

"If they had pressed the button two seconds earlier, then the damage would have been a lot more serious because it would have slowed the first car," he said.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters
St. Petersburg-bound passengers waiting near their derailed train early Tuesday after a bomb blast under the tracks.
Local residents saw three strangers near the site of the explosion over the past few days, and investigators are developing composite pictures of them, St. Petersburg web site reported Tuesday, citing an official in the Interior Ministry.

Mirishova, the spokeswoman for the regional transport prosecutors, declined to speculate on who might have carried out the bombing.

"We believe the aim of this explosion was to scare people and attempt to injure them," she said.

An unidentified source close to the investigation, however, said ultranationalists might have been involved, Interfax reported.

"It is entirely possible that the terrorist attack was specifically directed at one of the passengers on the train," the source was quoted as saying by Interfax. "At the same time, we are considering the theory that right-wing radical organizations were involved in the blast."

The source added that investigators were also following the "Caucasus trail" -- an apparent reference to Chechen terrorists -- but that was not considered the most likely variant, the news agency reported.

Some top officials linked the bombing to upcoming State Duma elections in December and the presidential election in March.

"Without a doubt, the terrorist attack on the Moscow-St. Petersburg train is connected to the upcoming election campaigns," Federation Council Senator Valery Fyodorov was quoted as saying by Interfax. Fyodorov also said he believed the most likely perpetrators were nationalist extremists.

Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB, said Tuesday that anti-terrorism measures would be strengthened in the run-up to the elections, Interfax reported.

Russian Railways said 800 meters of track were affected by the incident and that repair crews were working to fix the damage. Trains running between Moscow and St. Petersburg have been rerouted around the damaged stretch of tracks and changes in schedules will be announced at train stations, the railroad operator said.