Terrorism Suspected In Russian Train Wreck
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Russian officials believe that a powerful bomb caused a train wreck on the main rail line between Moscow and St. Petersburg last night in what appears to be a terrorist attack. Dozens of people were killed. Nearly 100 people were injured. NPR's Anne Garrels joins us from Moscow.
Anne, thanks for being with us.
ANNE GARRELS: Hello.
SIMON: And any claims of responsibility for this attack?
GARRELS: Well, a racist nationalist group claimed responsibility on its Web site. These are now fairly active groups in Russia, but security officials are discounting that claim. So far they're not saying who they actually think is responsible, but they now are apparently convinced this was an attack. The first signs were a crater in the area of the derailed train and now they're saying they found residues of explosives.
SIMON: Is there any significance attached to this particular train line?
GARRELS: Well, the Nevsky Express, running from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back, is a pretty upscale train, popular with business executives and government officials, and according to initial reports several prominent business figures may have been among the victims. It was carrying more than 600 passengers and 20 railway personnel when the last three cars left the tracks about 250 miles from Moscow. And the remote area where it derailed made it a particularly difficult task for emergency teams.
SIMON: Tell us a bit about this area. I mean did the attack occur in a region that's considered especially volatile right now?
GARRELS: Far from it. I mean, you know, this is mainstream Russia, though an attack in this area was not entirely unexpected. There was a similar bomb blast here on the same line two years ago which officials then attributed to Chechen fighters.
Violence in the volatile North Caucasus region way south of this, a predominately Muslim region of various ethnic groups - violence there has been on the increase, both in Chechnya and neighboring regions. Though Russia earlier this year claimed victory there and withdrew many of its forces, terrorist-style attacks there are now regular occurrences.
Russian officials had warned it could spread up here to, you know, the St. Petersburg/Moscow area. In his speech - recent speech to the nation - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called violence in the North Caucasus region the country's most serious domestic problem.
SIMON: Annie, is their everyday life beginning to change because of all these attacks in Moscow?
GARRELS: Well, in Moscow there really hasn't been anything for a couple of years. Before that there had been more attacks when the issue of Chechnya was far more sort of central and people got sort of, well, they thought this was over. But, as I say, attacks - you know, the violence down in the Caucasus is increasing and there had been warnings that this was going to appear probably up here in the Moscow/St. Petersburg region.
SIMON: Annie, what's security like on Russian railroads?
GARRELS: There's no security at all. And I think that's one reason why there had been attacks in the past by terrorists putting bombs in bathrooms on trains. It's much easier to attack a train than it is on an airline. Airline security here is pretty strict. Trains - easy target.
SIMON: NPR's Anne Garrels speaking with us from Moscow. Thanks very much.
GARRELS: Thank you.