Putin Visits Volgograd, Site of Two Suicide Attacks

January 1, 2014 6:58 PM

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Putin Visits Volgograd, Site of Two Suicide Attacks

“No matter what motivated these criminals, there is no justification for crimes against civilians, particularly against women and children,” he said in televised remarks at the beginning the meeting.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin broke two days of silence on the bombings, calling them “inhumane terrorist acts” and vowing that Russia would continue to fight terrorists until “their complete destruction.” He made his remarks during a New Year’s message that Russian leaders have traditionally given on the country’s most celebrated holiday.

The bombings, which have claimed 34 lives so far, tempered official celebrations, especially in Volgograd, a city of one million in central Russia that has endured three suicide bombings since October. By Tuesday, more than 5,000 Interior Ministry troops had surged into the city, carrying out searches that resulted in dozens of detentions, though apparently not of anyone involved in the bombings.

This week’s attacks — at Volgograd’s railroad station on Sunday and aboard a trolley bus on Monday — have heightened concerns about security in Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics, which begin in less than six weeks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, 400 miles from Volgograd. Experts have warned that the attacks could be a prelude to a campaign of terror by followers of Russia’s most-wanted militant, Doku Umarov, who in July vowed to disrupt the Olympics.

In his address, Mr. Putin mentioned Sochi only in passing, citing the coming task of hosting the Games “at the highest level.” On the issue of terrorism, he resorted to the kind of forceful, if less coarse, language that first propelled him to the office when in 1999, as prime minister under President Boris N. Yeltsin, he vowed to hunt down terrorists and, if necessary, “waste them in the outhouse.”

Fourteen years later, despite the end of the second war in Chechnya, Mr. Putin found himself vowing yet again to crush a threat that has now spread across the North Caucasus.

“Dear friends, we bow our heads to the victims of violent terrorist attacks,” Mr. Putin said, pledging aid to the victims and reconstruction of the damaged buildings. “I am sure we will continue the fight against terrorists harshly and consistently until their complete destruction.”

Mr. Putin delivered his remarks on Tuesday during a previously unannounced visit to Khabarovsk, the capital of the region in the Far East that suffered significant flooding this year that has left thousands of people still living in temporary shelters. In referring to the challenges facing Russia, he included natural disasters like the flooding and the terrorist attacks in Volgograd. “In times of trial, Russia has always been united,” he said.

Mr. Putin initially recorded a holiday address that made no mention of the bombings. The video showed him at the Kremlin. It appeared at midnight in Russia’s easternmost regions — Chukotka, Kamchatka and Magadan — and promptly raised questions of whether he intended to continue to avoid the topic.

By the time Mr. Putin arrived in Khabarovsk, however, he had been recorded giving the new remarks, acknowledging that he was breaking with the tradition of leaders speaking from the Kremlin.

In Volgograd, interior troops and police officers detained dozens of people for various violations, including improper documents. Mr. Putin had ordered heightened security throughout the country, and especially in Volgograd, where the heavy security presence underscored the fear that still more attacks could occur there.

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Andrei Pilipchuk, told the Interfax news agency that more than 152 weapons and 10 pounds of illegal drugs had been confiscated after searches in scores of apartment buildings, hotels, and bus and railroad stations. “The city’s life is returning to normal,” he said.

Even so, public gatherings to mark the New Year there were canceled, movie theaters were ordered closed, and security guards thoroughly searched anyone entering shopping centers that would normally be crowded with revelers buying last-minute gifts and food for the holiday.

A health official said Tuesday that the death toll from the bombings had risen to 34, with 18 killed in the train station attack and 16 dead from the trolley bus bombing. More than 60 people remained hospitalized; some of the most gravely wounded were flown to Moscow for treatment.

The authorities have said male suicide bombers carried out the two attacks, but they have not identified them or announced any related arrests.

Source: nytimes.com

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