Emergency personnel tend to a man wounded in the explosion Monday at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow.
Emergency personnel tend to a man wounded in the explosion Monday at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow. Ivan Sekretarev/AP
Russian authorities say a suicide bomber entered Moscow's busiest airport on Monday and set off an explosion that killed dozens of people and wounded more than 160 when it ripped through the international arrivals area.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who canceled a trip to Switzerland for an economic forum, called the blast at Domodedovo Airport an act of terrorism and said the perpetrators will be found and punished.
"From the preliminary information we have, it was a terror attack," Medvedev told officials in a televised briefing. He offered condolences to the families of the victims and ordered that security be stepped up at Moscow's two other commercial airports and other transport facilities, including the subway system, the target of past terrorist attacks.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said the attack was most likely carried out by a suicide bomber and "attempts were being made to identify him." The Interfax news agency reported that the head of the suspected bomber had been found.
Witnesses said a person clutching a suitcase got close to where passengers arrive from international flights and set off an explosion that sprayed the terminal with metal and shrapnel. An airport spokeswoman said 35 people were killed and scores were injured in the blast; however, the Emergencies Ministry said 31 people were killed, 74 hospitalized with injuries and 94 given medical treatment. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.
One witness, 30-year-old Artyom Zhilenkov, said his head was covered with blood and flesh, as he rushed to help people outside. Some of the wounded were carted away on baggage carts.
Sergei Lavochkin, who was waiting in the arrivals hall for a friend to arrive from Cuba, said he saw emergency teams carrying bloodied people out of the terminal.
"I heard a loud bang, saw plastic panels falling down from the ceiling and heard people screaming. Then people started running away," Lavochkin told Rossiya 24 television.
A row of ambulances was parked outside a terminal at Domodedovo Airport after an explosion ripped through the international arrivals hall.
A row of ambulances was parked outside a terminal at Domodedovo Airport after an explosion ripped through the international arrivals hall. Ivan Sekretarev/AP
Mark Green, a British Airways passenger who had just arrived at the airport, told BBC television he heard the huge explosion as he left the terminal.
"Literally, it shook you," he said. "As we were putting the bags in the car, a lot of alarms ... were going off and people started flowing out of the terminal, some of whom were covered in blood. One gentleman had a pair of jeans on that was ripped, and his thigh from his groin to his knee was covered in blood."
NPR's David Greene, reporting from Domodedovo, said the atmosphere at the airport was surreal.
"The Russian way of dealing with events like this is to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. That happened last spring, when there were bombings on the Moscow subway," he said. "Here at the airport, one entrance is shut down and there are emergency vehicles ... but aside from that, most of the airport is open. There are domestic flights that are still taking off, passengers arriving with their luggage — some of whom might not even know that any of this took place until they get to the airport for a trip. So it's a strange scene."
In Washington, President Obama condemned the "outrageous act of terrorism" in Moscow and offered any assistance Russians investigators may want.
Domodedovo, which serves passengers traveling within Russia as well as internationally, is generally regarded as Moscow's most up-to-date airport, but its security procedures have been called into question. In 2004, two suicide bombers were able to board planes at Domodedovo by buying tickets illegally from airport personnel. The bombers blew themselves up in midair, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.
Although the investigation into Monday's explosion is still in the preliminary stage, the blast bears some resemblance to the twin suicide blasts that hit Moscow's metro system last spring, killing 39 people.
In December 2009, Chechen rebels claimed responsibility for blowing up a high-speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, an attack that killed 26 people and injured scores.
NPR's David Greene reported from Domodedovo Airport and Peter Van Dyk reported from Moscow for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press