St. Petersburg subway bomber identified
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — St. Petersburg residents on Tuesday laid flowers outside the city’s subway where a bomb blast a day earlier killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens. Thousands of miles to the east, authorities in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan identified one suspect as a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came while President Vladimir Putin was visiting the city, Russia’s second biggest and Putin’s hometown.
Residents have been bringing flowers to the stations near where the blast occurred. Every corner and window-sill at the ornate, Soviet-built Sennaya Square station on Tuesday was covered with red and white carnations.
Russia’s health minister on Tuesday raised the death toll from 11 to 14 and said 49 people were still hospitalized.
The entire subway system in this city of 5 million was shut down and evacuated before partial service resumed six hours later. Typically crowded during the rush hour, the subway on Tuesday morning looked almost deserted as many residents opted for buses.
“First, I was really scared,” said Viktoria Prishchepova who did take the subway on Tuesday. “I didn’t want to go anywhere on the metro because I was nervous. Everyone was calling their loved ones yesterday, checking if they were OK and how everyone was going to get home.”
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security said in a statement that one suspect behind the bombing is a Kyrgyz-born Russian national it identified as Akbarzhon Dzhalilov. The Kyrgyz intelligence agency said Russian authorities informed them about the man, aged between 21 and 22, but they were not aware of his specific role in the bombing. The intelligence agency said it is cooperating with Russian authorities to help the investigation.
Authorities have not specified whether the attack was a suicide bombing or whether the bomber got away. The Interfax news agency on Monday said authorities believe the suspect was linked to radical Islamic groups and carried the explosive device onto the train in a backpack.
Within two hours of the blast, authorities had found and deactivated another bomb at another busy station, the anti-terror agency said. That station is a major transfer point for passengers on two lines and serves the railway station to Moscow.
St. Petersburg, like Moscow, is home to a large diaspora of Central Asian migrants who flee poverty and unemployment in their home countries for jobs in Russia. While most Central Asian migrants in Russia have work permits or work illegally, thousands of them have received Russian citizenship in the past decades.
Russian authorities have rejected calls to impose visas on Central Asian nationals, hinting that having millions of jobless men across the border from Russia would be a bigger security threat.
Patriach Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, led a service at Moscow’s main cathedral on Tuesday for those killed in the blast.
“This terrorist act is a threat to all of us, all our nation,” he said quoted by the Interfax news agency.
In the past two decades, Russian trains and planes have been frequent targets of attack, usually blamed on Islamic militants. The last confirmed attack was in October 2015 when Islamic State militants downed a Russian airliner heading from an Egyptian resort to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.
Separately, in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan, two policemen were killed in the early hours on Tuesday in a suspected Islamist militant attack. Alexander Zhilkin, governor of this region hundreds of miles away from the insurgency in the North Caucasus, said the suspected Islamists are on the run.