Published April 13, 2011
MINSK, Belarus – Three suspects have confessed to being involved in the Minsk subway bombing, police said Wednesday, and Belarusian authorities rounded up dissidents across the country after the president declared that they might know who "ordered the attack."
The head of the KGB, Belarus' security service, said a man in his mid-20s was arrested and confessed to carrying out the bombing that killed 12 people and wounded over 200 Monday at the main subway station in Minsk, the capital.
KGB chief Vadim Zaitsev did not identify the man and refused to discuss his motives but said he was "not only unhealthy in his psychological state but unhealthy in his ambitions."
Two other suspects also confessed to being involved in the subway attack, Zaitsev and police officials said. They did not elaborate.
Authorities have said the bomb was remote-controlled. CCTV footage showed one suspect leaving a bag in the Oktyabrskaya subway station in central Minsk and feeling around for something in his pocket shortly before the explosion, Deputy Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council "condemned in the strongest terms the apparent terrorist attack" at the subway station. A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said "the word 'apparent' is included in this statement for a reason."
The council statement expressed "deep sympathy" for the victims, reaffirmed that "any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable," and reminded all countries that any measures to combat terrorism must comply with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.
Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov said the main suspect also was involved in a bomb blast at a concert in Minsk in July 2008, which wounded about 50 people, and two bombings in September 2005 in the city of Vitebsk that wounded 48 people.
Belarus observed a day of mourning for the victims Wednesday, and several funerals were held. Several hundred people showed up at the Minsk subway station to observe a minute of silence at 6 p.m., the time of Monday's blast. Flags flew with black ribbons and residents sobbed as they viewed portraits of the victims at the station.
"Belarus is no longer an island of stability and security," said Ruslan Podgorsky, a 46-year-old businessman. "The terrorist act, the economic crisis — it's simply frightening to live here."
In a televised appearance earlier Wednesday, President Alexander Lukashenko suggested the blast was the work of dissidents. He said he had asked the prosecutor general to interrogate opposition figures in connection with the attack "regardless of democracy, and cries and wailing of foreign sufferers," dubbing political opponents a "fifth column" threatening the country.
"Maybe those politicians from the fifth column will open their cards and show who ordered it," he said.
Human rights activists said prosecutors were summoning opposition members from all over for interrogations.
"Authorities clearly want to use the attack to boost their control over society and carry out new repressions," said Valentina Stefanovich of Vesna, a human rights center.
Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the West, had already launched a widespread crackdown on opposition members after mass protests erupted over the December presidential election. Lukashenko was declared the overwhelming winner of that vote, which international observers strongly criticized and opponents said was rigged.
Lukashenko has run the former Soviet nation of 10 million with an iron fist for nearly 17 years, retaining Soviet-style controls over the economy and cracking down on opposition and independent media.
Belarus is going through a severe economic crisis, with hard currency reserves running critically low and a possible currency devaluation looming.
"Lukashenko needs to find a scapegoat for the disastrous situation in the country," said former presidential candidate Grigory Kostusev, who was jailed during the December rally. He was released and is now facing 15 years in prison for staging the rally.
"With the economic collapse looming, Lukashenko is trying to make the most of it by consolidating public opinion by offering it a theory about foreign enemies from Strasbourg who colluded with the opposition," said independent political analyst Alexander Sosnov.