Volgograd, Russia, Dec. 30 (Reuters): A bomb ripped a bus apart in Volgograd on Monday, killing 14 people in the second deadly attack blamed on suicide bombers in the southern Russian city in 24 hours and raising fears of Islamist attacks on the Winter Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his prestige on February’s Sochi Games and dismissed threats from Chechen and other Islamist militants in the nearby North Caucasus, ordered tighter security nationwide after the morning rush-hour blast.
Investigators said they believed a male suicide bomber set off the blast, a day after a similar attack killed at least 17 in the main rail station of a city that serves as a gateway to the southern wedge of Russian territory bounded by the Black and Caspian Seas and the Caucasus mountains.
The blue and white trolleybus — powered by overhead electric cables — was reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass. Bodies were strewn across the street as Russians prepared to celebrate New Year, the biggest annual holiday.
Windows in nearby apartments were blown out by the blast, which Russia’s foreign ministry condemned as part of a global “terrorist” campaign and welcomed a declaration of solidarity made on Sunday by the UN Security Council.
“For the second day, we are dying. It’s a nightmare,” a woman near the scene said, her voice trembling as she choked back tears. “What are we supposed to do, just walk now?”
“Identical” shrapnel to that in the rail station indicated that the two bombs were linked, investigators said.
“There was smoke and people were lying in the street,” said Olga, who works nearby. “The driver was thrown a long way. She was alive and moaning.... Her hands and clothes were bloody.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
On Sunday, investigators initially described the station bomber as a woman from Dagestan, a hub of Islamist militancy on the Caspian, but they later said the attacker might have been a man.
It was unclear why the city, which will host soccer matches during the 2018 World Cup, has been hit. However, geography — being close to the restive regions — and its historical significance, may have contributed to its being targeted.
Volgograd has held a place in Russians’ sense of national identity since, when known as Stalingrad, its Soviet defenders held off German invaders to turn the course of World War II.
City authorities have revived the former name for special occasions as Stalin’s image has been somewhat rehabilitated under Putin. He remains a hate figure, however, to Chechens, whose nation was deported en masse on the dictator’s orders.
The violence raises fears of a concerted campaign before the Olympics, which start on February 7 around Sochi, a resort on the Black Sea at the western end of the Caucasus range, 700km southwest of Volgograd.
“Terrorists in Volgograd aim to terrorise others around the world, making them stay away from the Sochi Olympics,” said Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre.
The International Olympic Committee expressed condolences and confidence in Russia’s ability to secure the Games.
“Terrorism is a global phenomenon and no region is exempt, which is why security at the Games is a top priority for the IOC,” said a spokesperson at IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
In power since 2000, Putin secured the Games for Russia and has staked his personal reputation on a safe and successful Olympics.