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18 Aug, 2009 19:59

Suicide bomber claims 20 lives in Southern Russia

President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the Russian Interior Minister to investigate who was behind the deadly blast in the capital of the republic of Ingushetia which claimed 20 lives.

“We have to carry out an investigation to find out if it was a slovenly practice, a betrayal or a combination of crimes that couldn't be prevented,” Medvedev said on Tuesday.

On Monday 20 people were killed when a terrorist drove his light commercial vehicle, a Gazelle, filled with explosives estimated 400 kilograms of TNT, into the courtyard of the building housing the republic’s police headquarters.

The number of the injured varies from 136 to more than 160, as reported by the republic’s hospital.

“It’s holiday season now but all the doctors, all the specialists came to work, we didn’t have to ask – they were all here, providing help,” says Tamara Kasieva, Deputy Head for the Ingush Republic Hospital.

Some patients had to be taken to nearby cities and nine of the most severely injured were flown to Moscow for treatment.

The deadliest blast in Ingushetia since 2004 went off as officers lined up in the courtyard for their morning inspection.

“At nine this morning someone drove a vehicle filled with explosives through the gates of the Nazran Region Internal Affairs building. This caused an explosion and fire,” announced Madina Khadzieva, Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry spokesperson.

The blast triggered a fire that raged for hours as ammunition and weapons stored at the building exploded. Also, more than 20 cars parked in the courtyard were destroyed by fire.

Eighty firefighters and members of the Emergencies Ministry were working at the site to extinguish the fire and look for survivors under the debris.

The Ria Novosti news agency reports that law-enforcement agencies of Ingushetia knew about the attack beforehand and were looking for the vehicle with explosives, but did not find it in time. And when the terrorist headed into the closed gates of the yard, the guards opened fire at the truck but did not succeed in stopping the vehicle.

Witnesses say a human head was found some 50 meters from the epicenter of the explosion. It is believed the head could belong to the terrorist who exploded his car. If so, it will significantly speed his identification and give a vital boost to investigators.

“The bombing is under investigation. The most likely motives are revenge for the work carried out by the police against militants or an attempt to destabilize the situation in the region,” said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The deadly bombing is the latest in a string of violent attacks that have rocked Ingushetia in recent months. The republic’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, was seriously wounded in a failed assassination attempt in June and has yet to return to work. Last week, Ingushetia’s Construction Minister was killed in his office by two masked gunmen.

After Monday's suicide attack, Ingush officials moved to tighten security at government buildings. However, President Medvedev criticized the failings of the republic's Interior Ministry.

“The attack is the result of not only the problems related to terror activities, but also of the unsatisfactory work of the republic's law enforcement agencies. This terror attack could have been prevented. I have decided to remove Ingushetia’s interior minister from office and to order an internal inquiry,” Medvedev said.

According to Dmitry Medvedev’s order, from now on Russia’s Deputy Interior Minister, Gen. Col. Arkady Edelev will be coordinating the work of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry.

Also, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev announced Monday evening that a temporary task force will be formed in the republic.

“We will create in Ingushetia temporary task forces that will include our most prepared employees, those who have experience in the North Caucasian region,” the minister said.

Additionally, Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has formed a special commission to investigate the case and a criminal case on several charges, including murder, has been opened.

The families of victims have been promised compensation and three days of mourning have been declared in the republic.