Explosion on St. Petersburg Metro Kills 11 as Putin Visits City

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — It was 2:40 p.m. on Monday, a lull before the evening rush hour in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, where the subway normally carries two million people a day. The train had just entered a tunnel between stations, on its way out of a sprawling downtown hub, when the bomb exploded.

The homemade device, filled with shrapnel, tore through the third car, killing 11 people; wounding more than 40, including children; and spreading bloody mayhem as the train limped into the Technology Institute station.

Videos circulating on social media showed long red streaks across the white floor as the injured were dragged from the car. With the doors damaged, some people smashed through the windows to get out. “What a nightmare!” somebody yelled amid piercing screams.

With the attack, Russia once again appeared to have found itself a target of terrorism, after a long lull in its main urban centers. Law enforcement agencies initially said they were seeking two people suspected of planting explosive devices, according to Russian news reports, but later indicated that the attack might have been the work of a suicide bomber from a militant Islamic group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but speculation turned toward militants from southern Russia who fled the shoot-to-kill law enforcement policy in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus and joined the Islamic State by the thousands.

They have repeatedly threatened to strike Russia. President Vladimir V. Putin sent the military to Syria in September 2015 in order, he said then, to battle militants on their own turf before they could attack Russia.

In a nod to that possibility — a potential political setback — Mr. Putin, who was in St. Petersburg for the day, emphasized that terrorists were the likely culprits, although he said investigators were exploring various possibilities. He laid flowers at the site of the attack and went to the local security headquarters to be briefed on the investigation. The last major terrorist attack in a Russian city was in Volgograd in 2013.

“If somebody announces that it is related to the Russian invasion in Syria, it would be a sensitive scenario for Putin, because the Syria campaign would lose support inside Russia,” said Kirill Rogov, a political analyst, while adding that it was too early to connect the attack to the Syria policy with any certainty.

In St. Petersburg, the dead and wounded had barely been evacuated before the various factions in Russia’s heated political atmosphere began blaming one another for the attack.

Nationalists and others on the right pointed the finger at the opposition, saying that such attacks emerged from the same womb as the street protests on March 26, in which tens of thousands of people unexpectedly marched against high-level government corruption.

Opposition figures responded that the security forces, feeling vulnerable, were perfectly capable of provoking a crisis in order to expand their powers of search and seizure.

Amid the taunts, there was relief that the attack was not worse. A larger bomb was found at a nearby station, Vosstaniya Square, but was disarmed, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, Andrei Przhezdomskiy, said on television. That bomb had been disguised as a fire extinguisher.

Security was increased in the Moscow Metro system and at other major transportation facilities across Russia.

The health minister, Veronika Skvortsova, announced live on television that 10 people had died — seven in the subway system, one en route to a hospital and two while they were being admitted to an emergency room — and that 39 others had been injured. Some of the wounded were children, she said.

Mr. Przhezdomskiy appeared on television later with an update that 11 people were dead and 45 were wounded.

Mr. Syrovatskiy later added in a message, “I was standing on the escalator when some kind of noise started coming from below, then I heard the noise of the coming train.”

People began to scream, he said, and an announcement ordered passengers to evacuate. “Very soon, you could detect the smell of burning, but I didn’t see any smoke,” he said. “I didn’t see what was going on the platform itself. I think everyone thought this was a fire.”

At the Dzhanelidze Hospital, a large Soviet block of concrete, arriving relatives were whisked into a special room away from the news media.

Valery Parfenov, the chief doctor, said at a news conference that many of the victims were dazed by what had happened to them. He said six patients were in serious condition and four were very serious, including some with skull injuries that would require complex surgery. He held up a ball bearing to show the metal bits that were being dug out of the victims.

The subway system shut down for about five hours, and the city declared surface transportation free. Still, as offices let out, the streets clogged with traffic, and sidewalks were jammed with people making the long trek home from work on foot.

“I appeal to you, citizens of St. Petersburg and guests of our city, to be alert, attentive and cautious, and to behave in a responsible manner in light of events,” Georgi S. Poltavchenko, the governor of St. Petersburg, said in a statement. He declared a three-day period of mourning starting on Tuesday.

In a televised statement less than an hour after the explosion, Mr. Putin said he had spoken with the leaders of the special services, including the Federal Security Service, and with law enforcement officials, who he said would “do everything to find out the causes of what had happened.”

Speaking from the Constantine Palace in the Strelna district of St. Petersburg, about 10 miles west of the blast, he added, “The government, both on the city and federal levels, will do everything to support families of the victims and injured.”

Mr. Putin was in St. Petersburg for a meeting with the president of Belarus — Alexander G. Lukashenko, a traditional ally who has recently feuded with the Kremlin — and to give a speech to the All-Russia People’s Front, a political group Mr. Putin started. At a joint appearance with Mr. Lukashenko to say they had resolved their differences, Mr. Putin did not mention the attack again.

In Washington, President Trump said the St. Petersburg bombing was a “terrible thing” that was “happening all over the world.”

Over the years, most terrorist attacks against domestic targets in Russia have been the work of Islamic insurgents. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bomb that brought down a Russian airliner in October 2015 after takeoff from Egypt, killing all 224 people on board. Many of the victims were from St. Petersburg.

In December 2013, weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, twin bombings at a train station and on a bus in the southern city of Volgograd killed more than 30 people. And in January 2011, a suicide attack at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow killed more than three dozen people.

The last fatal attack on a subway system in Russia occurred in March 2010, when explosions at two stations in central Moscow killed at least 33 people. Investigators blamed two suicide bombers from the Dagestan region for those attacks, and the leader of the Islamic insurgency in Chechnya, who has since been killed, claimed responsibility.

The subway system in Moscow was also struck twice in 2004 by deadly attacks. In February of that year, a bomb detonated inside a train car as it left the Avtozavodskaya station in southeastern Moscow, killing at least 39 people. That August, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a station in northern Moscow, killing nine.

Mr. Putin, in deploying the Russian military to Syria, said the move was meant to take the fight to Islamic radicals. Once deployed, however, the Russians concentrated more on shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad than on attacking the Islamic State.

The Russian militants in Syria have periodically threatened to attack at home. In a video posted on YouTube last July, a masked man driving across a desert landscape growled, “Listen, Putin, we will come to Russia and kill you at your homes.”

Victims of the attack at the Technology Institute station. Mikhail Syrovatskiy wrote online that he had been on an escalator at the station when the blast occurred. “Very soon, you could detect the smell of burning, but I didn’t see any smoke,” he said. “I didn’t see what was going on the platform itself. I think everyone thought this was a fire.” Credit vk via Associated Press
A person who was hurt in an explosion on the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday. With the attack, Russia once again appeared to have found itself a target of terrorism, after a long lull in its main urban centers. Credit Anton Vaganov/Reuters
The damage at the Technology Institute station. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

St. Petersburg metro explosion: At least 10 dead in Russia blast

Moscow (CNN)At least 10 people were killed in a blast on the St. Petersburg metro Monday, three state-run Russian news agencies said. Authorities say the explosion is a terrorist attack.

An explosion tore through a train as it was traveling between two stations in Russia's second-biggest city, injuring dozens more.

A second device was found and defused at another station, Russia's Anti-Terrorism Committee said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which led to the shutdown of the city's metro system.

President Vladimir Putin, who had been in St. Petersburg earlier in the day, laid roses at a makeshift memorial with candles outside the bombed metro station.

Earlier, Putin said all causes were being investigated, including terrorism. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described the explosion as a "terrorist act."

Latest developments
  • The blast was caused by an unidentified explosive device
  • It happened in a train car as it passed through a tunnel
  • The train's conductor possibly saved lives, committee said
  • Dozens were injured, several in critical condition, authorities said
  • A second device was found at another metro station and disabled
  • News agencies' death toll one less than previous Health Ministry report

The blast happened just after 2:30 p.m. (7:40 a.m. ET) as the train was traveling in a tunnel from Sennaya Ploshchad to Tekhnologichesky Institut stations in the city center. In the confusion, initial reports suggested there were two blasts.

Investigators are seizing items relative to the investigation, questioning witnesses and metro employees and working to confirm the number of dead and injured, Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The train's conductor possibly saved lives, the committee said, because rather than stop the train after the blast, he continued on to the next station, which allowed passengers to evacuate and rescuers to tend to victims.

Photographs show the facade of one of the cars ripped off and passengers running from the Tekhnologichesky Institute station as it filled with smoke. Victims said they helped each other escape the train.

Bodies were seen strewn across a station platform outside the train. Rescuers carried bandaged and bloodied victims out of the station.

Investigation underway
A spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the blast was caused by an unidentified explosive device in one of the train's cars.

#Сенная #Теракт #Метро #Спб pic.twitter.com/XYtWZpGilL

— 🚀 (@StanislavPanda) April 3, 2017

"So far, we say it was an unidentified explosive device as investigators and the Federal Security Service's bomb specialists are to establish the exact cause of this explosion," Andrei Przhezdomsky told state-run Russia 24.
A second device was found at another metro station -- Revolutionary Square -- and was disabled, the committee said in statement. That device was larger than the one that went off, according to state media reports quoting law enforcement.

That bomb was hidden in a fire extinguisher, according to state media. It carried about a kilogram of TNT.

At least three dozen people have been hospitalized, six of whom had critical injuries, the health ministry said. Other agencies in St. Petersburg gave differing numbers for the dead and injured.

Authorities closed down the entire metro system, whose five lines carry 2.3 million people a day.

'We expected death'
Passengers described the horror in the aftermath of the blast.

"In the metro car, everyone expected death, if I can say that. After the explosion, everyone expected consequences. Then we were taken out, and people began to help each other, brought others out. Most were covered in blood," a passenger on the train told state-run TASS.

Another passenger at the Sennaya station, Stanislav Listyev, said he felt the explosion and saw smoke coming out of the tunnel.

"I was going down the escalator at Sennaya Square at about half past 2, and at that moment I felt an explosion wave underneath. Everything was filled with smoke, people started panicking. So the trains stopped and almost immediately the evacuation started," he told CNN.

Putin statement
Putin expressed condolences to the victims and is talking to the security services about the investigation, according to state media.

"The reasons for the explosion are unknown, so it's too early to talk about it. The investigation will show what happened," Putin said, at the beginning of a meeting with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. "Naturally, we always consider all options -- both domestic and criminal, primarily incidents of a terrorist nature."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had been in St. Petersburg speaking at a media event.

Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defense committee in the Federation Council, said that the choice of St. Petersburg as a target may have been tied to Putin's visit.

"The choice of the place and the timing of these blasts is not accidental. The president of Russia is in [St. Petersburg]. The media forum is taking place there. There are many journalists," Ozerov said.

Medvedev said victims would be provided with "all necessary assistance." He said in a Facebook message: "My most sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the explosion."

Russia was once a hotspot for terror attacks, but the country has experienced relatively few in recent years.

In December 2013, a suicide bombing at a train station in Volgograd killed at least 16 people. The following day, in the same city, a suicide bombing on a trolley bus killed 14 people.

In 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at two Moscow metro stations, killing 40. They were linked to the Chechen insurgency.

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