MOSCOW Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that those behind a deadly suicide attack on Russia's busiest airport were unlikely to be from Chechnya, but analysts and media said North Caucasus militants were to blame.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the Monday attack which killed 35 and injured 100, including foreigners, and which bore the hallmark of Islamist rebels.
"This terrorist act, according to preliminary data, has no relation to the Chechen Republic," Putin told reporters.
Putin, who launched a war against Chechen rebels in 1999, refused to clarify his comment, which is likely to prompt speculation that the attackers came from another republic in Russia's violence-plagued North Caucasus, such as Ingushetia or Dagestan, which is considered the heart of the insurgency.
The Kremlin says it has succeeded in subduing rebellion in Chechnya.
As Russia observed a day of mourning on Wednesday, analysts and media pointed the finger of blame directly at militants in the North Caucasus fighting for an Islamic state.
"There is no doubt," North Caucasus expert Alexei Malashenko, from the Carnegie Center in Moscow, replied when asked if North Caucasus rebels were behind the attack.
"I cannot imagine someone from the Middle East or Kaliningrad (western Russia) doing this," Malashenko told Reuters in an interview, adding that the North Caucasus rebels were not mere bandits but people on a political mission.
President Dmitry Medvedev and his mentor Putin visited separate Orthodox Church memorial services on Wednesday as Moscow began dispatching victims' bodies to their hometowns across Russia and abroad.
Medvedev sacked transport official Andrei Alexeyev, who oversaw much of central Russia, including Moscow, the Kremlin said. He also ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to install more efficient warning systems at transport hubs.
NEW YEAR BOMB PLOT
In signs implicating militants from the North Caucasus, one of Russia's most popular newspapers on Wednesday said the group behind the airport bombing had planned a devastating attack on Moscow on New Year's Eve but were foiled.
A woman planned to blow herself up amid the crowds ringing in the new year near Red Square, but her plot failed when her mobile phone most likely set off the bomb by accident, killing her in her flat, reported Moskovsky Komsomolets.
It added that the would-be female suicide bomber had most probably received a spam text message congratulating her on the New Year at around 8:30 p.m., setting off the bomb, which shattered her apartment.
Two other suspects, including the wife of a North Caucasus rebel, were detained as they fled Moscow on January 5. However, others connected to them were able to plan the Domodedovo airport bomb in a Moscow suburb, the paper wrote.
Twin suicide bombings on the Moscow metro in March last year, which killed 40, were carried out by two women from the North Caucasus region of Dagestan.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya, Catherine Koppell and Amie Ferris-Rotman; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)