VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia – The president of the Ingushetia region in southern Russia was one of several people injured Tuesday when a powerful car-bomb blew up near his armored Mercedes in an apparent attempt on his life.
Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov (search) was heading from the city of Nazran to the regional capital Magas at about 9:45 a.m. local time when another car on the road exploded, said Sergei Kozhemyaka, a duty officer for the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry (search).
Zyazikov told the Interfax news agency he suffered light injuries, including burns. He said three of his bodyguards were also lightly injured, while his spokesman, Isa Merzhoyev, said five people from the motorcade were hospitalized.
The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that six people were hospitalized — four bodyguards and two bystanders, including a 9-year-old boy who had shrapnel wounds in his legs.
It quoted an unidentified source close to Zyazikov as saying a Russian-made car that had been following the motorcade suddenly sped up and tried to ram the regional leader's Mercedes, then blew up seconds later.
Ingushetia's acting chief prosecutor, Umarbek Galayev, said the blast was an assassination attempt carried out by a suicide bomber, ITAR-Tass said. Zyazikov also said he believed the blast was set off by a "suicide terrorist."
ITAR-Tass said the force of the explosion blew the roof off of nearby houses, and that it damaged Zyazikov's armored Mercedes. It said experts believed the explosion had the force of 220 pounds of TNT.
The explosion left a crater 10 feet wide and three feet deep, Ingushetian Interior Ministry spokesman Yakhiya Khadziyev said.
Zyazikov told ITAR-Tass he suspected the blast was the work of "forces that want to destabilize the situation" in the North Caucasus — the region that includes war-ravaged Chechnya (search) — and in Ingushetia (search) itself.
He indirectly pointed at Chechen rebels, saying that "the processes of destabilization in the republic benefit the separatists and extremists whose leaders are well known," adding that they want to turn Ingushetia "into a military theater, but they won't succeed."
Tiny Ingushetia is one of the poorest Russian regions, and its limited resources have been further strained by an influx of refugees from the war in Chechnya. It has been rocked by frequent attacks on Russian servicemen and local police officers, kidnappings and other violence.
Zyazikov, a former senior officer in the regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency, was elected president of Ingushetia in April 2002, after the region's popular leader Ruslan Aushev resigned in protest over a court dispute about his term in office.