PYATIGORSK, Russia (Reuters) - A blast rocked a cafe in Russia’s North Caucasus and a suicide bomber killed a policeman on Tuesday, dealing a blow to Kremlin efforts to contain a spreading Islamist insurgency.
The attacks in the majority-Christian regions of Stavropol and North Ossetia highlight the insurgency’s recent trend to spill over from the traditional epicentre of violence in the mainly Muslim regions of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said a car bomb ripped through the cafe in the city of Pyatigorsk in the Stavropol region just north of the volatile part of the North Caucasus.
Interfax news agency reported that 30 people were wounded.
Tangled wooden and glass debris from the remains of the cafe spilt out into the street following the blast as the injured were quickly piled into ambulances. The explosion shattered several windows of a nearby building.
“We were sitting in the cafe with our back to the windows and before we knew it glass shattered all over us,” said one blood-drenched man who did not wish to be named.
A decade after Russian forces defeated separatists who controlled Chechnya, the mainly-Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus are still plagued by violence, which local leaders blame on corruption, poverty and the ideology of global jihad.
The violence is particularly alarming for the Kremlin because of the proximity of the volatile regions to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The investigative committee of the General Prosecutor’s office said the cafe blast, which occurred at 4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. British time), was considered a “terrorist act.”
The regional governor was quoted as saying it contained a hefty 30 kilos (66 pounds) of explosives.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the FSB security service, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, to conduct a full investigation, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Earlier in North Ossetia, a suicide bomber blew himself up after approaching a checkpoint on a road near the border with Ingushetia province, a North Ossetian police official said.
He said one officer was killed. A duty officer at the regional Investigative Committee, a branch of the prosecutor’s office, said three more officers were injured.
Pyatigorsk, some 225 km (140 miles) north of the Chechen capital Grozny, was chosen by the Kremlin last year to be the administrative centre of the new North Caucasus Federal District, a regrouping of the region’s provinces to include Stavropol in a bid to tackle growing violence.
At least five people were killed and 20 injured in May when a bomb exploded outside a theatre in the city of Stavropol just before the start of a Chechen dance show. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Suspected Islamist militants stormed a power station in the nearby, relatively peaceful region of Kabardino-Balkaria in July, killing two guards.
Tuesday’s suicide attack was in North Ossetia’s Prigorodny district, the site of a territorial dispute between ethnic Ossetians and Ingush that erupted into fighting in 1992 and remains a source of tension.
In the town of Beslan in North Ossetia, Islamist militants seized a school in a 2004 attack that led to more than 330 deaths, more than half of them of children.
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