Russians mourning 17 bombing victims in North Caucasus; 6 others reported killed in clashes

By Sergey Ponomarev, AP
Friday, September 10, 2010

Russians mourn bombing victims; 6 others killed

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia — Clashes between police and alleged militants left six more people dead Friday in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, even as stunned residents laid flowers in a square where a suicide car bombing killed 17 people and wounded more than 140 only a day ago.

Thursday’s bombing near the central market of Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Ossetia republic, was the most serious attack in Russia since the March subway bombings in Moscow that killed 40 people.

Russia’s ethnically diverse North Caucasus region has been gripped by violence stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya and fueled by poverty, rampant official corruption and alleged extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture by law enforcement officials.

In the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, the Interior Ministry said police on Friday killed four suspected militants who opened fire after a raid on a home in the village of Makhargi. The agency also said police were also trying to negotiate with three militants blockaded in a house in Derbent, near the border with Azerbaijan.

A Dagestani policeman and a prison warden were also shot to death in separate attacks, ministry officials said Friday.

The Vladikavkaz market was cordoned off Friday and investigators combed the site for clues about the bombing. Flags flew at half-staff throughout the city.

A North Ossetia health official said 107 of the wounded were in local hospitals and 11 severely injured victims had been flown to Moscow, according to state news agency ITAR-Tass.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to track down the perpetrators of the attack.

“The terrorists involved in such actions will be destroyed,” he said at a policy forum in Yaroslavl, a city in western Russia. “We are determined to fight the terrorism to the end.”

Thursday’s blast was so powerful that glass in nearby buildings shattered. The area was cleaned of blood and shreds of clothing but twisted wrecks of several cars still littered the street.

A few blocks away, weeping relatives and neighbors mourned two bombing victims: 54-year-old Yaselin Mamedova and 18-month-old Elnur Ashinov. Their bodies were being prepared for burial later in the day in line with Muslim practice.

There has been no public claim of responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but suspicion fell on Islamic militants who launch frequent small attacks in neighboring North Caucasus republics, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Those three provinces have a Muslim majority, but North Ossetia is predominantly Orthodox Christian with a sizable Muslim minority.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Russia’s top Muslim cleric after the blast and said Russia’s 20 million Muslims should play a key role in eradicating Islamic extremism in the nation.

“The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens. We mustn’t allow this,” Putin said at the Thursday meeting.

Associated Press Writers Arsen Mollayev in Makhachkala and Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don contributed to this report.

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