Prague, 2 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A vehicle packed with explosives blew up a Russian military hospital in the southern republic of North Ossetia yesterday, killing at least 35 people and wounding another 150. The explosion took place in Mozdok, the city which is the main headquarters of Russian armed forces fighting separatists in neighboring Chechnya.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinski said the death toll from the blast is likely to rise.
Eyewitnesses said the blast was caused by a man who drove a vehicle packed with explosives into the hospital complex in Mozdok.
In Moscow, Emergencies Ministry official Mikhail Razanov said the blast ripped apart the hospital: "At 7 p.m. a vehicle exploded near the military hospital and completely destroyed the building. That represents approximately 300 square meters."
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the blast.
Fridinsky suggested the blast could have been an act of revenge by separatists involved in 10 years of nearly non-stop warfare since servicemen hurt in Russia's crackdown against Chechen rebels were treated at the hospital.
Salambek Maigov, envoy for the rebels, told Interfax news agency that separatist Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had nothing to do
with the blast at the hospital. "I take full responsibility in declaring that neither Aslan Maskhadov nor the Ichkeria leadership are involved in this explosion," he said.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered that an Emergencies Ministry team fly to Mozdok to assist local rescuers.
Galina Zubenko, a paramedic at the scene within minutes of the explosion, saw charred corpses outside the building. "Of the four-storey building a single wall was left standing," she told Rossiya state television.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov flew to the North Ossetian city.
Chechnya is preparing for a 5 October election to choose a
regional president -- a key event in Kremlin plans to restore
In Washington, a White House spokesman denounced "this act