At least 12 people were killed and over 100 wounded in a double car bombing in Russia's North Caucasus, the deadliest militant strike for months in the troubled region, officials said Friday.
The massive blasts outside the main city of Dagestanc late on Thursday sent huge yellow flames into the night sky, reduced cars to burned wreckage and ripped a crater into the ground, television pictures showed.
Investigators said the first blast went off on the outskirts of the city of Makhachkala in the republic of Dagestan when a Lada car laden with explosives was detonated near a traffic police post at 22:10 pm (1810 GMT) damaging nearby buildings and cars but causing no fatalities.
The second car bomb went off fifteen minutes later hitting policemen, rescue workers and passers-by who gathered at the scene, investigators said.
The twin attacks appeared to bear the hallmarks of bombings conducted by radical militants fighting the Kremlin in the Caucasus where they seek to establish an Islamist state.
The blasts were by far the deadliest attacks in the Caucasus this year and deal a huge blow to Kremlin hopes of restoring relative stability to a region that has been a headache for Moscow since the collapse of the USSR.
State television said it appeared that the less damaging first blast was aimed at attracting emergency workers and security forces to the scene who were then hit by a more powerful second explosion.
"As a result of the second blast, 12 people died including seven policemen, three employees of the region emergencies ministry's rescue service and two local residents," the Moscow-based investigators said in a statement, adding that more than 100 were injured.
But in a sign that the death toll was expected to climb, a spokeswoman for the regional emergencies ministry told AFP that the blasts killed 13 people, while another one was considered missing.
Another 122 people were injured, and 83 were hospitalised, the emergencies ministry said.
A spokesman for investigators in Dagestan, Rasul Temirbekov, also said that the death toll might slightly go up. "It is possible. By one or two people," he told AFP.
The first blast had the force of around 30 kilograms in TNT equivalent, while the second one of around 50 kilograms in TNT equivalent, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terror Committee said in televised remarks.
The attack in Makhachkala was the latest strike to hit the Russian Caucasus, plagued by an Islamist insurgency that has claimed scores of lives in the past months.
The Kremlin has repeatedly vowed to root out insurgents but attacks on officials and suicide bombings have become a near-daily occurrence in the Caucasus over the past few years.
The latest attacks come just days before strongman Vladimir Putin -- who once famously pledged to "wipe out (militants) in the outhouse" -- is returning back to the Kremlin for a historic third term.
He once said he "sometimes feel sorry" for the militants because of the lack of opportunities available to them in the impoverished Caucasus.
The Kremlin fought two wars against separatist rebels in Chechnya in the 1990s but the insurgency has now become more Islamist in tone and has spread to neighbouring regions such as Ingushetia and Dagestan.