MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) - Suicide bombers killed at least 12 people in Russia’s North Caucasus on Wednesday, two days after deadly attacks in Moscow that authorities linked to insurgents from the region.
A car packed with explosives blew up as police gave chase, and a bomber in a police uniform set off a second blast in a crowd of police who rushed to the scene, authorities said.
The coordinated attacks in the town of Kizlyar, in Dagestan region close to its border with Chechnya, were the latest outbreaks in a surge of violence in the Caucasus a decade after the Kremlin’s second of two wars against Chechen separatists.
The Dagestan bombings came 48 hours after Moscow was hit by its bloodiest attack in six years — twin morning rush-hour blasts that killed 39. Authorities blamed female suicide bombers with connections to the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said a single group could be behind the bombings in both Moscow and Dagestan.
“Yet another terrorist act has been committed. I do not rule out that it is one and the same gang acting,” he told a government meeting.
He called the attacks “a crime against Russia” and ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to bolster the police presence in the North Caucasus.
Analysts and rights activists have warned that a further crackdown could be counterproductive, fuelling the Islamist insurgency rather than creating stability.
The Russian rouble weakened 3 kopecks versus the euro-dollar basket but was only 16 kopecks below a 15-month high, and traders said the currency did not move on the attack.
Russia’s main equities indexes rose slightly while the yields on Russian Eurobonds were little changed.
The attack in Kizlyar began when a car packed with explosives blew up after its driver ignored a command to halt and sped toward the center of town with police close behind, Nurgaliyev, the interior minister, said in televised comments.
The vehicle — a black four-wheel-drive Niva — exploded with the force of as much as 200 kilograms of TNT, Russian news agencies quoted prosecutorial investigators as saying. Two police officers were killed, Nurgaliyev said.
Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber pushed his way into a crowd of police who had gathered at the site and detonated his explosives, killing Kizlyar police chief Vitaly Vedernikov and several other officers, authorities said.
After the blasts, two gutted cars stood near a deep crater on a debris-strewn street lined by bare trees. A red brick schoolhouse had its windows blown out and roof partly ripped off. A man’s severed head lay on the street.
Reports said there were no children in the school at the time of the blasts.
Luring police with one blast and then setting off a second is a common tactic of North Caucasus insurgents, who have been attacking law enforcement authorities almost daily.
The two explosions killed 12 people, including nine police officers and a prosecutorial investigator, and 23 people were hospitalized, the federal Investigative Committee said.
Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim province on the Caspian Sea with a patchwork of different ethnic groups, is plagued by violence stemming from the Islamic insurgency across the North Caucasus as well as criminal disputes and clan rivalries.
The Moscow metro attack fueled fears of a broader offensive by rebels based in the North Caucasus. It underscored the Kremlin’s failure to keep militants in check and confine violence to the region along Russia’s southern fringe.
President Dmitry Medvedev said the attacks this week were “links in one chain,” Russian news agencies reported.
He told a presidential Security Council meeting terrorists were trying “to sow fear and panic in the population. We will not allow this.” He said he had signed a decree aimed at improving security on public transport.
Putin, who in 1999 led Moscow into a war against Chechen separatists that sealed his rise to power, said on Tuesday it was “a matter of honor” to catch the organizers of the Moscow bombing and “scrape them from the bottom of the sewers.”
Medvedev has stressed the insurgency cannot be stopped by force alone and authorities must continue programs to attack problems such as poverty and corruption in the Caucasus.
“All of these must be realized, no matter what, because the key to many of these problems lies in the social and economic sphere,” Medvedev said on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Tim Pearce.