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North Ossetia Mourns Bombing Victims As Death Toll Rises

  • RFE/RL

A woman mourns at the blast site in Vladikavkaz on September 9.

A woman mourns at the blast site in Vladikavkaz on September 9.

Flags in North Ossetia are at half-mast as Russia's Caucasus republic mourns the victims of a devastating suicide bombing in the regional capital, Vladikavkaz.

The death toll from the September 9 attack rose to 17, excluding the bomber, after a women died from her injuries overnight. The first victims are being buried today.

Shocked residents laid carnations and lit candles at the entrance to the city's main market, where the attacker detonated a powerful car bomb packed with bolts.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was quick to condemn the attack and today expressed sorrow over the innocent victims, saying the "bandits" responsible should be "destroyed."

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Alan Tskhurbayev reports from Vladikavkaz that the balst was so powerful that the windows shook in the building he was in, 2 kilometers away.

More than 100 people remain hospitalized, including 11 severely wounded victims who were flown to Moscow for treatment. Five of those are in critical condition, including a 3-year-old child. The child's 18-month-old brother died in the blast.

Grisly video footage from the site shortly after the blast showed dead bodies lying in pools of blood and doctors carrying injured victims in their arms.

A basket of flowers left in memory of the victims at the blast site in Vladikavkaz.

Market vendor Zara, who was inside the market when the bomb went off, said she lost her cousin in the attack.

"There was a small child nearby who was alive but had lost his leg, two young men picked him up and carried him into an ambulance," she said. "There were also an elderly man and an elderly woman who died instantly."

A man who lives close to the market, Artur, said residents helped transport the wounded to hospital. "People did their best to help," he said. "I saw five injured victims being carried onto carts that are used to bring produce to the market."

'Destroy The Bandits'

Speaking today to an international conference of political analysts in the city of Yaroslavl, Medvedev again vowed an all-out effort to defeat North Caucasus insurgency.

"We are fully determined to take our fight against terror in our country to the end," he said. "We have no other choice, we have no other goals. This fight will continue and terrorists involved in such crimes will be destroyed."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the bombing was "aimed at sowing enmity" between Russian citizens.

According to Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), three people suspected of involvement in the attack have been detained. Bortnikov traveled to Vladikavkaz at Medvedev's request.

Authorities say the vehicle used for the bombing crossed into North Ossetia from Ingushetia some 30 minutes before the bombing -- the deadliest in Russia since suicide bombers killed 40 people in Moscow's subway in March.

No group has taken direct responsibility for the attack so far, but Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov issued a call for more attacks outside the North Caucasus.

In a video clip dated September 2010 and posted September 9 on the Chechen rebel website, the camouflage-clad Umarov urges insurgents to "take jihad beyond the boundaries of the Caucasus" and other Muslim regions.

Umarov has repeatedly vowed to carry out attacks in Russia's heartland and claimed responsibility for this year's deadly attacks on the Moscow metro.

Many local officials and rights groups say poverty, corruption, and abuse by the presence Russian security forces have contributed to the unrest.

North Ossetia, the only majority-Christian region in Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, has generally seen less violence than the neighboring republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria. But it is notorious as the site of the Beslan school hostage tragedy, in which more than 330 children and adults died in September 2004.

The Vladikavkaz market blast took place 11 years to the day that a bomb destroyed an apartment block in Moscow, killing 94 people. The Kremlin blamed that attack on Chechen militants and used the incident and subsequent blasts as a pretext for initiating a second federal war in Chechnya.

U.S. President Barack Obama has released a statement condemning the North Ossetia bombing, saying it underscores "the resolve of the United States and Russia to work together in combating terrorism."

written by Claire Bigg in Prague, with contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service