Suicide Blasts Kill Dozens Of Russian Commuters

In Moscow, dozens of people are dead in a double suicide attack on the city's crowded subway system. It's the worst attack on the capital in six years. The blasts took place during morning rush hour and were about 40 minutes apart. Freelance journalist Jessica Gollaher talks to Renee Montagne about the attacks.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Moscow, dozens of people are dead in a double suicide attack in the city's crowded subway system. It's the worst attack on the capital in six years. The blasts took place during the crowded morning rush hour and were about 40 minutes apart.

Joining us now from Moscow is freelance journalist Jessica Gollaher, who often reports for NPR.

Good morning.

Ms. JESSICA GOLLAHER (Freelance Journalist): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what you know about what happened this morning.

Ms. GOLLAHER: The first attack happened just before about 8:00 o'clock this morning at the Lubyanka metro station. That's near the headquarters of Russia's domestic security service, the FSB, formerly known as the KGB. Officials say about 23 people were killed in that blast when a female suicide bomber allegedly blew herself up in the second carriage of the train. Officials say some of the other people were killed because they were waiting on the platform to get on that train.

The second blast happened about 40 minutes later, as you mentioned, on the same line at Park Culture. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov told reporters at a press conference that that blast also happened in the second carriage of the train. At least 14 people were killed in that incident.

MONTAGNE: And you said this was a female suicide bomber. Were both bombers women? I mean, what all do we know about the bombers so far?

Ms. GOLLAHER: We know, actually, very little. We know that both of the bombers were women. And there was also a bombing on the Nevsky Express earlier this year, an overnight train. And so officials have actually stepped up their efforts to be more watchful, and they say they have been on the lookout for female suicide bombers also for those incidents, as well, because there have been suicide bomber arracks that have been female in Moscow. Actually, one happened in 2004.

MONTAGNE: And as of this morning, has anyone taken responsibility for the bombings?

Ms. GOLLAHER: No one has taken responsibility, as of yet. Officials say they do suspect terrorism. And many analysts and officials are saying that they suspect that it's Islamist separatist groups from the North Caucasus region. There is a lot of unrest there. There've been two separatist wars in the area. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev actually said that violence there is one of the country's biggest domestic problems.

Many analysts say that the violence is a civil war between the Kremlin-supported administrations and Islamic militants. There are daily suicide bombings in the area. They target officials and policemen. So that's what many officials and analysts are suspecting at this point.

MONTAGNE: You know, the subway in Moscow, it circles the city and is used by millions of people every day. How panicked are people over there that there are these two separate bombings that happened, and they're pretty deadly?

Ms. GOLLAHER: People are, quite frankly, very panicked. I live with several people, and people are getting calls from friends and families. I've also been out on the street. People are talking about it on the street. As you mentioned, the subway system is enormous. It's one of the biggest in the world - seven millions riders a day. And if you're going to wreak havoc, the metro system is the place to do it. People are panicked.

And it's not something that you expect to happen, but it does happen here quite often. It happened in 2004. People sort of, I think, get a little use to it - I mean, not to say that that's a good thing. People don't necessarily expect it every day, but it does happen. And when it does happen, security's definitely beefed up. And some people even say that they avoid the metro because they're afraid of these things happening.

The traffic is so bad on the streets and there's so many people here that you need to take the metro to get around. Moscow's huge, and it's the best way to transport yourself. But when these sort of things happen, it's just chaos in the middle of the city.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, you mentioned that 2004 attack. What happened then?

Ms. GOLLAHER: In 2004, another female suicide bomber blew herself up outside a metro stop in the middle of the city. Islamist or Chechen rebels claimed responsibility for that attack in 2004. That was the largest attack in the city center, except for this one today.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for catching us up on this.

Ms. GOLLAHER: It was my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Jessica Gollaher is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.

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