Relatives identify victims of Russian train wreck, officials seek clues in ‘terrorist attack’

By Steve Gutterman, AP
Sunday, November 29, 2009

Victims being identified after Russian train wreck

MOSCOW — Russians mourned at religious services and soccer stadiums Sunday after a deadly train wreck that authorities blamed on a terrorist bomb. The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church urged the nation not to give in to fear.

Relatives identified loved ones killed in the wreck of the express train that authorities say was blown off the tracks by a blast. If confirmed as caused by a bombing, the wreck would be Russia’s deadliest terrorist attack outside the violence-plagued North Caucasus provinces in five years.

Television networks took entertainment programs off the air and moments of silence were observed before matches on the final Sunday of the Russian football league.

Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the country’s dominant church, led a prayer service for the victims at Christ the Savior Cathedral near the Kremlin. He urged Russians to help authorities and “display firm will for a victory over terror.”

“Our people have been challenged. A crime of which any one of us could have been a victim has been committed for effect,” Kirill said in a statement posted on the church’s Web site. “They want to frighten everybody who lives in Russia.”

The rear three cars of the Nevsky Express, one of Russia’s fastest trains, derailed on a remote stretch of track late Friday as it sped from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing some passengers and trapping others in the jumbled wreckage. The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, said Saturday that an explosive device detonated underneath the train, gouging a crater in the railbed and pulling the tail cars off the tracks.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said at least 25 people were killed and 26 others were unaccounted for, though he indicated some of them may have survived uninjured or never have boarded the train.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said 85 people remained hospitalized, 21 of them in grave condition, according to Russian news agencies. A Belgian and an Italian were among those hurt.

Relatives were identifying victims Sunday at a hospital morgue in Tver, the closest sizable city to the wreck site near the border of the Tver and Novgorod provinces, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Moscow.

The state-run railway company Russian Railways said train traffic was fully restored.

There were no credible claims of responsibility or word on a possible motive.

Russia has been hit by a number of major terrorist attacks since the 1991 Soviet collapse, most of them linked to the devastating 1990s wars between government forces and separatist rebels in Chechnya and the violence the conflicts have spawned across the surrounding North Caucasus.

Extreme nationalists were blamed in a similar blast that caused a derailment along the same railway line in 2007, injuring 27 passengers. Authorities arrested two suspects in the 2007 train blast and are searching for a third, a former military officer.

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