At Least 16 Killed in Latest Caucasus Violence

Explosion in Vladikavkaz, Sept. 9, 2010. Source: ReutersA car bomb has exploded in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, killing at least 16 people and injuring 123, Ekho Moskvy radio reports. According to law enforcement agencies, a suspect named “Archiev” has been identified as the driver of a car that crossed the border from the neighboring Russian Islamic republic of Ingushetia shortly before exploding in a Vladikavkaz city market.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty repots:

More than a dozen people have been killed in an explosion in the Russian republic of North Ossetia that officials say was the work of a suicide car bomber.

The midday explosion took place in a busy central market in the local capital of Vladikavkaz. Grisly video footage from the site showed dead bodies lying unattended in pools of blood and frantic doctors carrying injured victims in their arms.

Officials variously put the death toll at 14 or 15. It was unclear if the bomber was included in either figure. At least 80 others were reported injured in the blast, including a number of young children.

Officials in North Ossetia and Moscow say the explosion was the result of a suicide bomber who parked a car packed with explosives near the market entrance.

The Interfax news agency quotes the North Ossetian Interior Ministry as saying the Volga car involved in the bombing had a number plate from the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.

Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office, said a terrorism investigation had been launched into the attack.

A second explosive that failed to detonate was later detected at the entrance to the market.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the car-bomb attack. Speaking during a meeting with the chairman of Russia’s Union of Muftis, Putin said the bombing was “aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens,” and he expected Russian Muslims to make a “decisive contribution” to combating extremism.

The North Caucasus has been a growing source of concern for the Kremlin, as Islamic extremism and violent attacks continue to rise.

A suicide car-bomb attack on September 4 at a Russian Army base in Daghestan left at least five people dead, and came just days after an assassination attempt on a local Daghestan official.

Many local authorities say endemic poverty and the presence of hostile Russian security forces have contributed to the general unrest.

North Ossetia, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian, has generally seen less violence than other North Caucasus republics. But it is notorious as the site of the Beslan school siege tragedy, in which more than 330 children and adults were killed in September 2004.

North Ossetia also has its own history of bomb attacks. Alan Tskhurbayev, a former correspondent with RFE/RL’s Russian Service, spoke to RFE/RL from the scene of the blast.

“It’s necessary to say that this isn’t the first blast in the Vladikavkaz central market. It’s been the site of frequent explosions, starting in 1999, when 52 people were killed here,” Tskhurbayev said. “If memory serves, this is already the fourth blast here, or something close to it.”

Today’s market blast comes 11 years to the day after a bomb destroyed an apartment block in the Russian capital Moscow, killing 94 people.

The Kremlin blamed the blast on Chechen militants and used the incident and subsequent blasts as a pretext for initiating a second federal war in Chechnya.