At Least 15 Are Killed in Explosion at Russian Rail Station


MOSCOW — A suicide bombing at a railroad station in central Russia killed at least 15 people on Sunday, according to official accounts, raising the specter of a new wave of terrorism ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. More than two dozen were wounded, some of them critically, meaning the death toll could still rise.

The explosion, which officials said was caused by a bomb possibly carried in a bag or backpack, struck the main railroad station in Volgograd, a city about 550 miles south of Moscow, at 12:45 p.m. It blew out windows in the building’s facade and left a horrific scene of carnage at the station’s main entrance.

The blast, captured on a surveillance video camera from across the central plaza in front of the station, occurred near the metal detectors that have become a common security fixture at most of Russia’s transportation hubs, suggesting that an attack deeper inside the station or aboard a train might have been averted.

Vladimir I. Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, called the bombing an act of terrorism, though the exact motivation, target and perpetrator were not immediately clear. Within hours of the attack, the authorities blamed a suicide bomber, citing the gruesome discovery of a woman’s severed head, which, they said, could aid in identifying her.

“Most likely, the victims could have been much higher if the so-called protective system had not stopped the suicide bomber from getting through the metal detectors into the waiting room where there were passengers,” Mr. Markin said in a statement on the committee’s website.

It was the second such attack in Volgograd in two months. In October a woman identified as Naida Asiyalova detonated a vest of explosives aboard a bus in the city, killing herself and six others.

In that case, the authorities linked her by marriage to an explosives expert working with an Islamic rebel group in Dagestan, the southern republic where the police have struggle to suppress an insurgency by Muslim separatists. A month later the authorities announced that they had killed her husband and four others in a raid in the region.

The republics of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Adygea, have for nearly two decades been embroiled in complex, ever-shifting armed conflicts that the International Crisis Group recently called “the most violent in Europe today.”

The violence has left hundreds dead already this year and prompted the authorities to make extraordinary efforts to keep it from reaching Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that will be the host of the Winter Olympic Games six weeks from now.

Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel fighter who now leads a terrorist group known as the Caucasus Emirate, vowed in July to target Sochi explicitly, calling the Games “satanic.” “They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea,” Mr. Umarov said in a video statement.

Mr. Umarov emerged from the ruins of Chechnya’s separatist movement, which the Russian government under President Vladimir V. Putin largely defeated. Chechnya itself remains comparatively stable under a regional leader embraced by the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of ruling through repression and abuse.

Mr. Umarov’s group, which ostensibly aims to create an independent emirate that would unite Russia’s southern Muslim republics, claimed responsibility for ordering two separate suicide bombings on Moscow’s subway in 2010 and an attack at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in 2011.

Mr. Umarov himself is believed to operate in remote redoubts in the Caucasus, but his whereabouts and his influence over other Islamic militants in the region remain unclear. The International Crisis Group’s recent report outlined a raft of issues that have contributed to Islamic radicalization and violence in the Caucasus, including not only separatist aspirations but also social and economic issues and federal policies.

“Unresolved disputes over territory, administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the violence, along with ethnic and religious tensions, the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, rule of law, governance and economic growth,” the organization’s report said. “The region’s internal fragmentation and insufficient integration with the rest of the Russian Federation contribute to the political and social alienation of its residents.”

It is not clear why suicide bombers have now twice targeted Volgograd, a city of one million that under its former name was the scene of one of the epic battles of World War II: Stalingrad. It is the first major city north of the Caucasus, and its proximity to the region a factor in the attacks.

Both attacks also struck means of transportation — a bus and the train station — and both raised speculation that the bombers might have intended to travel farther north, only to detonate their bombs early. On Friday, an explosion in a car killed three people in another city in the Caucasus, Pyatigorsk, though details of that attack remain sketchy, and it was not clear whether it was in any way related to Sunday’s bombing.

Mr. Putin ordered the authorities to provide assistance to the victims of Sunday’s bombing and their families and to tighten security at the country’s train stations and airports, all of which are busier than usual ahead of the New Year’s holiday.