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18 Aug, 2010 04:24

Terror attacks: blast in Southern Russia, dozens injured

Police in Moscow are on high alert as authorities fear more terror attacks could follow a car bombing in Russia's Caucasus.

At least thirty people have been injured in a blast in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk. The Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office has qualified the incident as a terrorist attack.

According to local police reports, the explosives were placed in a car parked near a cafe.

The explosion in the bustling central part of the city damaged cars in the surrounding area and destroyed the cafe.

The street where the bomb exploded is one of the busiest, and is situated just five minutes walk from the local police station and administration headquarters.

Many believe scores more would most likely have died had it not been for a sudden downpour that emptied the usually busy street where the attack took place.

A Chechen militant Doku Umarov with links to Al-Qaeda is thought to be behind the blast.

Pyatigorsk is a small resort city in the North Caucasus, a cultural center of the region. The Capetown Café was on one of the busiest city streets, which the locals call “Broadway.”

Mika Ayariyan was a bartender at the café and was on shift when the car packed with explosives went off.

“I was on the phone – that' s why my left ear is OK,” he said. “I started shouting because my ears popped. I didn't have any thoughts until I got up and saw that car in pieces. Then I turned back and saw no one where there should be people. So I as if on autopilot I went to help them out. That's it. I had to return to the scene later, to shut off the gas to prevent another explosion,” Mika told RT.

The place where the café once stood – still sealed by police – has become a meeting point for the survivors.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin stated that “The preliminary data indicates it was an open explosive left in a parked car. Some of those injured are in a critical condition. The Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case. The representatives of the Committee, experienced investigators are working at the site, trying to identify the type of the explosive, its capacity and other relevant data.”

Anna Yankovskaya, who witnessed the explosion, recounted the events: "We were some distance away from the blast, about 75 meters, but still we all felt the blast wave – it felt like something pushed me. Then we saw a lot of cars, police cars among them, drive past in the direction of where the sound came from. We were at the office and decided to go there and see what happened."

"The scene of the explosion was near the post office and across the street from a cafe. We saw that the police had sealed off the area and the windows of the post office were shattered. A lot of people were hurt, since it was in a lively part of the city – there are usually a lot of people there. The cafe there might not have been packed but still… Frankly, the people started panicking, but then dissipated. We still don't know what happened, they have not let anyone inside the blocked-off area."

RT correspondent Oksana Likhacheva, who has lived in Pyatigorsk, said the cafe destroyed by the explosion was not far from the local government offices.

"The cafe is known as a place where that local mayor likes to have dinners and lunches,” she said. “It’s a very touristy spot.”

She described Pyatigorsk as "the so-called cultural center of the Stavropol region."

"It's a place where all different events, festivities take place, a lot of students come there to study,” Likhacheva explained. “And actually at the moment, Pyatigorsk hosts an all-Caucasian youth camp where more than 1,000 teenagers from different the Caucasus republics come and get together.”

Earlier, Interfax also cited Pyatigorsk law enforcers as saying there are reports that another explosive device might have been planted near one of the city's shops.

According to a Kremlin spokesman, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has instructed Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova and the governor of Stavropol region Valery Gayevsky to help the victims of the blast.

Meanwhile, internal affairs offices have received presidential instructions to take all possible measures to find those behind the blast.