, MOSCOW, Mar 31 – Suicide bombers killed 12 people on Wednesday in double strikes targeting police in Russia\’s turbulent North Caucasus, shaking the country just two days after attacks in Moscow left 39 dead.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the latest attack in the North Caucasus region may be linked to the strikes on the Moscow metro by two female suicide bombers while President Dmitry Medvedev vowed not to let militants sow panic.
Russia has for years been fighting an Islamist-fuelled insurgency in the North Caucasus but the metro bombings in the heart of Moscow, largely spared attacks for the last six years, shook Russians to the core.
Nine police including a local police chief were among the dead in the double attack 48 hours later in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, a region on the Caspian Sea already wracked by militant violence. Focus: Dagestan
"I do not rule out that the same gang (as in Moscow) was at work here," a stern-looking Putin told a government meeting in televised remarks.
He said it did not matter where the bombings took place or what faiths the victims had. "This is a crime against Russia."
Medvedev meanwhile told a security council meeting that "the terrorists\’ goal is the destabilisation of the situation in the country, the destruction of civil society, a desire to sow fear and panic among the population."
"We will not allow this," he added. Related article: \’Russia mulls terror alert codes\’
Wednesday\’s first blast was caused by a car occupied by a suicide bomber that blew up when police tried to stop it during a regular check in the town of Kizlyar in Dagestan, officials said.
The force of the first blast left a massive crater in the road and reduced surrounding cars to burned-out wrecks, television pictures showed.
After 20 minutes, another blast was caused by a second suicide bomber wearing a police uniform who approached police working at the scene of the first blast, a spokeswoman for the Dagestani interior ministry told AFP.
The spokesman Nizami Radzhabov said the first blast was caused by explosives of 200 kilogrammes of TNT equivalent stuffed into a Niva jeep "in which there was a suicide bomber", Interfax reported.
The investigative committee of Russian prosecutors said in a statement that 12 people were killed, nine of them police, and 23 were wounded.
Among the dead was local Kizlyar district police chief, Vitaly Vedernikov, it said.
Russia\’s leaders pledged after Monday\’s Moscow metro blasts to hunt down and destroy the organisers of the suicide bombings who they said had links to North Caucasus militant groups.
Muslim Dagestan has been one of the Caucasus regions most troubled by militant violence, along with Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Putin had Tuesday ordered security forces to snare the masterminds of the metro bombings, saying they should be scraped out from the sewers in language reminiscent of a 1999 promise to strike at rebels in the "outhouse".
The Kommersant daily quoted an investigation source as saying Tuesday that militants had recruited 30 potential suicide bombers in recent months, with 21 still at large after nine already blew themselves up.
The Moscow female suicide bombers blew themselves up within 40 minutes of each other in the morning rush hour at stations in the centre of the city.
The latest explosions come as Russia buried the first two victims of Monday\’s blasts, as police stepped up their presence in the still tense capital.
Police said that a total of 100 bomb alerts had been received in Moscow over the last 24 hours, all turning out to be false.
Moscow\’s police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev said that three times as many police as usual – many of them equipped with sniffer dogs – were on patrol in the city\’s metro system.
Last month, Islamist rebels led by Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov pledged a holy war against the authorities, saying attacks would be staged throughout the country.
Police were searching for a possible male accomplice who is reported to have accompanied the female bombers to Moscow and was photographed by surveillance cameras.
Russian police have also released grisly photographs to media showing the severed heads of the two bombers\’ corpses. Unconfirmed reports have said they arrived in Moscow from the Caucasus by bus early on Monday.