Car bombing wounds 23 outside cafe in southern Russia

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — A car bomb exploded outside a cafe in a restive region of southern Russia on Tuesday, injuring 23 people, police said.

The explosion occurred just outside the cafe in downtown Pyatigorsk, a city in Russia's North Caucasus, said Stanislav Belyayev, a spokesman for the Stavropol regional police. The wounded were cafe customers and passers-by, and all were hospitalized, three of them in serious condition.

Belyayev said a powerful homemade explosive blew up in a Russian-made Lada, which was parked outside the cafe. Investigators were treating it as a terrorist attack.

Bombings and other attacks occur regularly in the North Caucasus, where violence has spread following two separatist wars in Chechnya. While most attacks are carried out by militants targeting police and other officials, some are the result of business disputes.

Tuesday's car bombing drew the immediate attention of the Kremlin. President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Federal Security Service and the Prosecutor General's Office to do everything possible to identify and capture those responsible for the bombing.

Pyatigorsk is the center of a new federal administrative district, created last year to oversee Kremlin efforts to bring stability to the region.

Hours earlier Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed a police officer and wounded two others in the neighboring North Caucasus province of North Ossetia.

The attacker blew himself up at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Vladikavkaz, regional police spokesman Aslan Dzgoyev said. The bomber, who died in the explosion, was accompanied by two other men. One of them was captured after police shot and wounded him, while the other escaped.

In Dagestan, a North Caucasus republic that sees daily violence, two men were killed Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire with police in the provincial capital, Makhachkala, police said. One policeman and two passersby were wounded.