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August 18, 2009

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Truck bomb attack claims 20 in Russia

A SUICIDE bomber rammed a truck into a police station in the Russian region of Ingushetia yesterday, killing at least 20 police and wounding more than 130 others, in the worst attack to ravage the North Caucasus republic in years.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which left the two-story building smoldering and a crater in the compound's courtyard, where the attacker detonated the bomb.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired Ingushetia's top police official and, in unusually harsh comments, said police forces were as much to blame as the attackers themselves.

"This terrorist attack could have been prevented," he said.

Ingushetia - more than any other North Caucasus region - has been reeling from militant violence in recent months, including a suicide bombing that badly wounded the leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

Yevkurov blamed militants who have battled security forces in the forests along the mountainous border with Chechnya.

"It was an attempt to destabilize the situation and sow panic," he said in a statement issued by his spokesman.

Investigators said the attacker crashed his truck through the gates of city police headquarters in Nazran, Ingushetia's main city, as officers were lining up for their morning inspection. Police fired shots at the truck, but failed to stop it.

The blast triggered a fire that raged for hours, destroying a weapons room where ammunition detonated.

Hours later, rescue teams searched for more victims in the gutted ruins and wrecked vehicles. A nearby apartment building and several offices were also badly damaged, and burned-out cars littered the street.

Emergency officials said 20 officers were killed and up to 138 people were wounded. They said the death toll was likely to rise as rescuers find more victims.

The bombing was the deadliest to hit Ingushetia since June 21-22, 2004, when militant attacks killed nearly 90 people, including many police officers.

The attack poses a serious challenge to Russia and its policies in the largely Muslim North Caucasus, which is home to different ethnic groups that have at various times battled Russian forces or fought among themselves.

Under Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin, a relative calm had returned to Chechnya after two separatist wars since 1994.

Now that large-scale fighting has ended, Russia has focused on pouring money into rebuilding efforts as well as bolstering local administration's authority.

But many of the leaders' strong-arm tactics in controlling their regions have prompted a backlash. Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been blamed for human rights abuses.


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