Rescuers hauled out body bags and emotions boiled over into blind anger against Muslims after twin suicide bombings blamed on militants from the Northern Caucasus rocked Moscow on Monday.
Hundreds of police and dozens of orange and red emergency vehicles blocked Lubyanka Square, home to the daunting headquarters of Russia’s FSB security service, the successor to the Soviet KGB, an AFP correspondent saw.
Rescuers carried corpses covered in black body bags out of the Lubyanka metro station, where an explosion had just gone off during the busy Monday morning rush hour.
Just a few kilometers away, another blast exploded at the Park Kultury metro station, and officials quickly blamed the dual attacks on Islamist militants from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus.
An outraged young man who said his girlfriend was in hospital after being injured in the attacks vowed vengeance against Muslims and flaunted blood on his hands that he said was from punching a Tajik in the face.
“I am going kill one of them, a Tajik, an Azerbaijani, it does not matter, they are all the same. War is going to begin,” he told journalists who had gathered at Lubyanka Square, before being taken away by police.
At one point a helicopter buzzed over the city and landed on the square, which was home to a statue of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky until it was dismantled amid mass protests as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Alexandra Antonova, an editor for the RIA-Novosti news agency, said she had just got on the train leaving the Lubyanka station when the explosion shook her carriage.
“The loud boom stuffed up my ears. But the train didn’t stop. Nobody had time to understand what had happened. Everybody started looking around,” Antonova said in comments published by RIA-Novosti.
When her train arrived at the next station, passengers were told to leave, and as they exited their carriages thick smoke could be seen pouring out the tunnel, Antonova added.
At the Park Kultury station, the site of the second blast, hundreds of commuters streamed outside after being forced out of the metro, with some women sobbing as they emerged outdoors, an AFP correspondent saw. Police used red and white tape to seal off the entrances to the station, which lies near Moscow’s Gorky Park, made famous by the 1981 detective novel “Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith and its 1983 film adaptation.
One young man desperately trying to force his way past the police barriers yelled: “I need to get into the metro right now!”
But a burly riot policeman firmly rebuked those trying to pass: “By orders of the FSB nobody is allowed in.”
Vitaly, a 21-year-old student, said he had been on a train headed to the Park Kultury station when it stopped without explanation in the middle of the tunnel before reversing course and releasing its passengers.
“I am shocked. It’s been a long time since something like this happened,” said Vitaly, who learned that he had narrowly dodged the attack from a telephone call while still waiting in his train underground.
Traffic was snarled for several hours on Monday morning as police blocked major streets near the blasts, and mobile phone networks were briefly overloaded as Muscovites called to check on their loved ones.