11 People Killed, More Than 40 Injured in Explosion on St. Petersburg Metro as Putin Visits City

A person who was hurt in an explosion on the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday. With the attack, Russia once again appeared to have found itself a target of terrorism, after a long lull in its main urban centers. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

It was 2:40 p.m. on Monday, a lull before the evening rush hour in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, where the subway normally carries two million people a day. The train had just entered a tunnel between stations, on its way out of a sprawling downtown hub, when the bomb exploded.

The homemade device, filled with shrapnel, tore through the third car. It killed 11 people; wounded more than 40, including children; and spread bloody mayhem as the train limped into the Technology Institute station with smoke filling the air.

Videos circulating on social media showed long red streaks across the white floor as the injured were dragged from the car. With the doors damaged, some people smashed windows to get out. “What a nightmare!” somebody yelled amid piercing screams.

With the attack, Russia once again appeared to have found itself a target of terrorism, shattering a respite in its main urban centers. Law enforcement agencies initially said they were seeking two people suspected of planting explosive devices, according to Russian news reports, but later indicated that the attack might have been carried out by a suicide bomber from a militant Islamic group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but speculation turned toward militants from southern Russia, who fled the shoot-to-kill law enforcement policy in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus, joined the Islamic State by the thousands and have repeatedly threatened attacks. President Vladimir V. Putin sent the Russian military to Syria in September 2015 in order, he said then, to battle militants on their own turf before they could strike in Russia.

In a nod to that possibility — a potential political setback — Mr. Putin, who was in St. Petersburg for the day, emphasized that terrorists were the likely culprits, although he said investigators were exploring various possibilities. He laid flowers at the site of the explosion and went to the local security headquarters to be briefed on the investigation. The last major terrorist attack in a Russian city was in Volgograd in 2013.

“If somebody announces that it is related to the Russian invasion in Syria, it would be a sensitive scenario for Putin, because the Syria campaign would lose support inside Russia,” said Kirill Rogov, a political analyst, while adding that it was too early to connect the attack to Mr. Putin’s Syria policy with any certainty.

The dead and wounded had barely been evacuated before the factions in Russia’s heated political sphere began blaming one another.

Nationalists and others on the right pointed the finger at the opposition, saying such attacks emerged from the same womb as the street protests on March 26, in which tens of thousands of people marched against high-level government corruption. Opposition figures responded that the security forces, feeling vulnerable, were perfectly capable of provoking a crisis in order to expand their powers of search and seizure.

There were also unconfirmed reports that a suicide bomber from Uzbekistan or a neighboring country might have been responsible, unnerving St. Petersburg’s Central Asians.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Ivan Nechepurenko and Neil MacFarquhar