Bombers struck the heavily-travelled Moscow-St. Petersburg railway on Tuesday, derailing a passenger train and injuring at least 60 people.
Russian prosecutors opened a terrorism probe into the causes of the blast, which destroyed a rail line on one of the country’s busiest routes during the night. No one was killed, but almost 30 people were hospitalised with serious injuries, news agencies reported.
“Preliminary findings show that an explosive device planted under the railroad track was the cause of the accident,” the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement.
“A criminal case has been opened under article 205, clause 3, that is terrorism,” it said.
The incident occurred late at night near the city of Novgorod, in northwest Russia. The explosion, equal to 2 kilos of TNT, derailed four passenger cars of the famous Nevsky Express, bound for St. Petersburg.
Russian TV described scenes of chaos at the site on Tuesday, where emergency crews were still removing wreckage while investigators searched the area for clues.
“It was terrible. People were thrown to one side and there was this smell of burning,” Viktoria Kovbas, a passenger, told journalists. “There was an explosion, and the restaurant car is crumpled up like an accordion,” she said.
Russia has enjoyed almost three years of relative peace from terrorist attacks, since terrorists seized a school in the north Caucasus town of Beslan on September 1, 2004, leading to a bloody massacre of 330 people, mostly children.
But security officials warn that the situation in Russia’s volatile south has grown worse lately, including a sharp rise in terrorist activities in the mainly-Muslim republic of Ingushetia.
“The past two months saw an increase in the number of attacks on officials in North Caucasus republics,” the official RIA-Novosti quoted the head of the FSB security service, Nikolai Patrushev, as saying.
Tuesday’s train bombing could herald a wave of fresh attacks against civilian targets around Russia, he suggested.
“Anti-terrorist commissions all over Russia need to take comprehensive measures to prevent subversive activities at vulnerable key facilities, including places where there are lots of people,” Patrushev said.