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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK

World: Europe

Explosion rocks Russian town

The building contained about 100 apartments

A huge lorry bomb blast has shattered an apartment building in a southern Russian town, leaving 17 people dead and scores injured.

The BBC's Andrew Harding: "This appears to be a random attack"
Reports said a truck exploded outside the nine-storey block in the city of Volgodonsk, near Russia's volatile northern Caucasus region, in the early hours of the morning.

It was the fourth big explosion in a large apartment building in Russia in the past two weeks. Moscow has blamed Muslim militants from the breakaway republic of Chechnya for the attacks.

Terror in Russia
  • Who is to blame?
  • What Russia can do
  • Timeline: The blasts which shook Russia
  • Officials said at least 115 people were injured in the Volgodonsk blast, many of them seriously.

    Five other people were missing and believed trapped in the wreckage. The block contained about 100 apartments.

    Police put the force of the blast at 300-350 kilogrammes (660-770 pounds) of TNT, but explosives experts have not yet determined what chemicals were used.

    Moscow correspondent Robert Parsons: "Rescue efforts being hampered by fire"
    The blast, which happened at about 0600 local time (0200GMT), brought down the front of the block and damaged a nearby police station and about 20 other buildings, officials said.

    Firefighters tackled a blaze engulfing several floors as rescuers searched for survivors.

    'We must stamp out vermin'

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately called for decisive action to deal with the recent spate of bomb attacks which have left more than 200 people dead.

    [ image:  ]
    "We should not whimper and whine, we all need to act decisively, determinedly and energetically," he was quoted saying. "We must stamp out this vermin."

    President Boris Yeltsin, who met Mr Putin to discuss the latest explosion, added: "We have the strength of will and the means to wipe out terrorism.''

    He said the Chechen border should be sealed so that ''not a single transportation artery'' remained open. "We are working on this and we will do this," Mr Yeltsin added.

    Moscow attacks

    The blast follows two devastating bomb attacks in Moscow, one on Monday which killed 118 people and the other seven days ago, which killed 94.

    Alexander Konovalov of the Institute of Strategic Assessment: "The Russian state is in danger"
    A third bomb in the republic of Dagestan on 4 September destroyed a military housing complex, killing more than 60 people.

    The attacks have sparked a massive security sweep in Moscow and other Russian cities.

    But police said the Volgodonsk apartment block had cleared a security check carried out by police as part of the clampdown ordered by President Yeltsin.

    [ image:  ]
    "This building was checked as part of the 'Whirlwind' anti-terrorist operation and we checked both the basements and attics,'' police spokesman Dmitry Nevzorov said.

    "We locked these parts of the premises, which is perhaps why the terrorists did not place the explosives in the building but outside in a truck.''

    Militants suspected

    [ image:  ]
    Volgodonsk, some 960km (600 miles) to the south of Moscow, is close to Dagestan where Russian troops have been battling Islamic militants for the past month.

    The militants, who are fighting for a separate Islamic state, have previously threatened to strike targets in Russia.

    The government has not provided any evidence of their involvement in the blasts.

    However, Mr Putin said on Wednesday that the people who carried out the suspected bombings in Moscow were hiding in Chechnya, adding that Russia would ask the Chechen Government to "hand over the criminals".

    Both Chechen officials and the warlords have denied being behind the attacks.

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