VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia – The toll in the truck bombing of a Chechen government compound rose to at least 52 dead and 300 wounded, rescue officials said Tuesday, amid criticism that lax security permitted the attack.
It was the second major terrorist attack against a government installation in Chechnya (search) in six months.
The vast majority of local administration buildings in the breakaway republic "are practically defenseless against terrorists," Russia's Izvestia daily commented.
As top officials of the Nadterechny (search) region of northern Chechnya held their regular morning meeting in the government headquarters in Znamenskoye (search) on Monday, three suicide attackers blew up a truck laden with explosives nearby. The blast reduced eight buildings to rubble and killed or injured government workers, civilians in the compound, shopkeepers and residents of neighboring apartments.
Maj. Gen. Ruslan Avtayev, the emergency situations minister for Chechnya, said that as of Tuesday morning, 52 people were confirmed dead, including 16 women and seven children. Of the 300 wounded, 114 had been hospitalized, 57 of them in serious condition after being dug out of the ruins on Monday, he said.
A Chechen government official in Grozny, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the death toll had reached 55.
Approximately 24 hours following the explosion, salvage workers had practically completed their excavation of the ruins and it was unlikely more bodies would be recovered, Avtayev said.
Russian and Moscow-backed Chechen officials quickly blamed Chechen rebels for the bombing, which closely resembled the December suicide truck bombing that devastated Chechnya's government headquarters in the capital Grozny, killing at least 70 people.
The local branch of the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency that is leading Russia's more than 3-year-old war in Chechnya, and the regional education, tax and agriculture departments were located in the Znamenskoye compound, which was closely bordered by four two-story residential buildings.
Unlike Grozny, which suffers nearly daily rebel attacks against Russian troops, Chechen police and civilians, the Nadterechny district had been considered remarkably stable. It was the first area to come under the control of Russian forces that entered the republic in 1999, starting the second war in a decade.
Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration, said the attack appeared to be an effort by separatist rebels to "prove, at any cost, that they are still strong," the Interfax news agency reported.
However, Izvestia said that Chechen law enforcement officials thought the motive behind the attack might not have been purely political.
It said that the head of the Federal Security Service branch in Nadterechny, Mayerbek Khusiyev, had taken a tough line against would-be smugglers of oil and metal from Chechnya. Most of the smugglers' routes lie through the Nadterechny region, and the attack organizers may have hoped to rub out Khusiyev and his team, Izvestia said.