Train derailment that killed at least 26 in Russia investigated as possible terrorism act

By Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Russia investigates train derailment as terror act

UGLOVKA, Russia — Investigators on Saturday were considering whether the train derailment that killed at least 26 people was caused by a bomb on the tracks — which would make it Russia’s deadliest terrorist strike outside the volatile North Caucasus in years.

The Nevsky Express was carrying hundreds of passengers from Moscow to the northern city of St. Petersburg when it went off rail Friday night. Some officials said Saturday at least 26 people were killed and nearly 100 were injured and hospitalized, though the Prosecutor General’s office said the death toll had risen to 30 while 60 people remained in hospital.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said another 18 people were still missing from the disaster, which authorities are investigating as an act of terrorism.

President Dmitry Medvedev called for calm, saying in televised comments Saturday that “we need there to be no chaos, because the situation is tense as it is.”

The 14-carriage luxury train, popular with business executives and government officials, had been carrying 633 passengers and 20 railway personnel when the last three cars left the tracks in a rural area near the border of the Novgorod and Tver provinces, about 250 miles (402 kilometers) northwest of Moscow and 150 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of St. Petersburg.

Police and prosecutors swarmed over the disaster site Saturday and restricted access to what was reported to be a possible bomb crater.

Witnesses told Channel One state television they agreed a bomb blast may have been the cause.

“It was immensely scary. I think it was an act of terrorism because there was a bang,” said passenger Vitaly Rafikov, who was unhurt in the accident and helped with the rescue, hauling victims from the wreckage and lighting fires for warmth.

Igor Pechnikov described being in the second of the three derailed cars. “A trembling began, and the carriage jolted violently to the left. I flew through half of the carriage,” he said.

Emergency workers wrapped in blankets and huddled around fires Saturday morning as a light rain started to fall. Two huge cranes were lifting pieces of wreckage from the site, as rescuers searched for more possible victims.

A bashed and battered railway carriage lay on its side across the tracks. Baggage and metal debris lay scattered in the mud.

Terrorism has been a major concern in Russia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as Chechen rebels have clashed with government forces in two wars and Islamist separatists continue to target law enforcement officials.

Attacks are relatively frequent across Russia’s North Caucasus, and include the December 2003 suicide bombing of a train near Chechnya that killed 44 people.

The last fatal terrorist attacks outside the volatile southern region, however, occurred in 2004 with the twin bombings of passenger aircraft that killed more than 80 people.

Those attacks were blamed on Chechen rebels, as were the February 2004 Moscow metro bombings that killed 40 people.

A 2002 hostage-taking at a Moscow theater ended with the deaths of around 130 people, after Russian special forces sprayed a chemical agent into the building before storming it.

The 2007 derailment of a train on the Moscow-St. Petersburg line was caused by an explosion and injured 27 people. Authorities have arrested two suspects and are searching for a third — a former military officer.

Another train derailment in June 2005 left at least 12 injured. The train had been traveling from Chechnya to Moscow.

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