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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 20:39 GMT
Fear on the streets of Moscow

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC, Moscow

Shouting in agony, a wounded man is loaded onto a stretcher by medics.

Behind him, rescuers drag another bomb victim through shattered glass, pulling him away from danger.

Police at scene of Moscow suicide bombing
Russia has been rocked by a spate of suicide attacks
Moments after the powerful explosion, there was panic and chaos in central Moscow.

The bomb was detonated outside the exclusive National Hotel.

The victims were mainly passers-by - killed on the spot.

The snow-covered pavement was strewn with bodies.

Bodies on the floor

Officials believe this was the work of a woman suicide bomber.

An attack at the heart of the Russian capital, metres from parliament - and directly opposite the Kremlin.

I think the terrorists are showing Moscow that world terrorism has come to Russia
Moscow resident
As ambulances rushed the wounded to hospital, a shop security guard described what he had seen.

"I heard the blast and ran straight here," Vladislav said.

"I saw a Mercedes with its windows blown out - and two bodies lying nearby.

"At first I thought it was a car bomb, but it didn't look like that.

"Then the police cordoned the whole area off."

Suddenly police shouted at the crowd to move back.

An officer said bomb disposal teams had discovered more explosives at the scene.

Moments later, a suspicious package was detonated by remote-controlled robot.

Search for clues

Inside the Kremlin, President Putin said terrorists and criminals were trying to undermine Russia's democratic development.

Scene of Moscow suicide bombing
The bomber is believed to have been heading towards the Kremlin
The blast comes two days after parliamentary elections here, and some suggest a possible link.

Moscow's Mayor Yury Luzhkov is reporting rumours the bomb was intended for the Duma, or parliament, further up the road.

As night fell, the victims' bodies remained on the pavement.

Forensic teams brought-in powerful lights to help continue the search for clues.

Thirteen people needed hospital treatment, most suffering from burns and broken bones.

Investigators are still working to establish who was behind the attack.

The Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case - they are calling it an act of terrorism.

Life goes on

The area immediately around the hotel remained cordoned-off by police on Tuesday night but nearby, life was already returning to normal.

The Christmas lights have been switched on; there are crowds out shopping.

But many people admit they have been seriously shaken.

"It's horrible!" one girl said. "It scares me. This is the second terrorist act I met this year. I was at the Tushino rock festival this summer too," she said, referring to a twin suicide bombing which killed 15 people, carried out by Chechen rebels.

"It's getting too personal."

"Its awful. I don't know what to say," her friend added.

"I think the terrorists are showing Moscow that world terrorism has come to Russia."

This is the second suicide bombing in Russia in a week.

More than 40 people were killed in an attack on a train in the south of the country on Friday.

These blood-soaked scenes are becoming increasingly familiar.

They have left many here in Moscow wondering just how safe they are.

In pictures: Moscow blast
09 Dec 03  |  Photo Gallery
Russia's suicide bomb nightmare
05 Dec 03  |  Europe
Putin says bombers will not win
06 Dec 03  |  Europe
Pro-Putin party triumphs in poll
08 Dec 03  |  Europe

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