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At Least 39 Killed In Moscow Metro Blast

Moscow, 6 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- An explosion on the Moscow metro during the morning rush hour has killed at least 39 people and injured more than 100 others.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says the blast happened on board the second car of a metro train as it traveled between the Paveletskaya and Avtozavodskaya stations, near the center of the capital. Moscow police spokesman Kirill Mazulin said the blast was probably caused by an explosive device.

The explosion started a large fire, complicating rescue efforts.

More than 500 people were evacuated after walking more than a kilometer through the smoke-filled metro tunnel.

"There was an explosion in the second [metro] car. The driver told us there was a piece of flesh lying on the floor in the second car. For a long time, we couldn't open the doors. Then, finally, the driver opened them and we started walking. We walked for about 2 kilometers. There was panic and a lot of screaming," one woman said.

Officials say the fire in the metro tunnel caused by the explosion has now been extinguished. Security forces have launched a search operation to find a possible attacker or accomplice, and are studying video footage from cameras in the metro network for clues to the source of the blast.

President Vladimir Putin responded by saying nations must unite their forces to fight terrorism, which he called the "plague of the 21st century." Putin said he believes the explosion was linked to the separatist movement of rebel Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. Putin said that Russia does not negotiate with terrorists, but destroys them.

Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy for Maskhadov, told RFE/RL that the rebel Chechen leadership condemns the blast and any use of terror: "The president [separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov] and the government of the Chechen Republic officially declare that they have absolutely no connection with this provocation and condemn it unequivocally. Terrorism is not our method, and those who are trying to carry out their policies by intimidating society will suffer a fiasco in the end and will find themselves behind bars."

U.S. President George W. Bush called Putin to express condolences over the deadly explosion. Leaders throughout Europe condemned the attack. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said that Russia can count on the solidarity and support from the EU.

Investigators are now combing the scene for evidence. Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev said no shrapnel has been found so far. Experts are examining the possibility that bomb components destined for another location might have gone off prematurely in the metro car.

Russian Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin said extra security measures are being taken in Moscow.