WATCH: (Warning: contains graphic images) An apparent suicide car bombing has struck a market in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia in Russia's North Caucasus. (Video by Reuters)
More than a dozen people have been killed in an explosion in the Russian republic of North Ossetia that officials say was the work of a suicide car bomber.
The midday explosion took place in a busy central market in the local capital of Vladikavkaz. Grisly video footage from the site showed dead bodies lying unattended in pools of blood and frantic doctors carrying injured victims in their arms.
Officials have put the death toll at 17, including the bomber and an 18-month-old toddler who later died of his injuries in the hospital. Close to 100 others were reported injured in the blast.
Officials in North Ossetia and Moscow say the explosion was the result of a suicide bomber who parked a car packed with explosives near the market entrance.
The Interfax news agency quotes the North Ossetian Interior Ministry as saying the Volga car involved in the bombing had a number plate from the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, said a terrorism investigation had been launched into the attack.
A second explosive that failed to detonate was later detected at the entrance to the market.
Russian leaders were quick to condemn the attack. In a video conference with North Ossetian leaders, President Dmitry Medvedev expressed sorrow over the innocent victims and criticized the violence that continues to plague the North Caucasus.
"What has happened is another manifestation of the criminal activity carried out by bandits with whom there can be no compromise or cease-fires," Medvedev said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also condemned the attack, saying the bombing was "aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens" and that he expected Russian Muslims to make a "decisive contribution" to combating extremism.
"I know what Muslims think of these extremists. We feel their support, especially in the North Caucasus region, and we see it," Putin said. "We are grateful for this support and we hope that together we can overcome these difficulties."
Putin was speaking during a meeting with Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, on the occasion of the start of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Gainutdin called on all of Russia's religious believers to fight the scourge of terrorism.
"We must preserve the peace. We must fight the vice. Under no circumstances should the blood of innocent people be spilled. And I think all those who believe have heard [my sermon]," Gainutdin said.
"And those who do not go to churches or mosques, those who refuse to stand on the path of righteousness, they are the enemies of our religion and the enemies of our whole society."
History Of Violence
The North Caucasus has been a growing source of concern for the Kremlin, as Islamic extremism and violent attacks continue to rise.
A suicide car-bomb attack on September 4 at a Russian Army base in Daghestan left at least five people dead, and came just days after an assassination attempt on a local Daghestan official.
Many local authorities say endemic poverty and the presence of hostile Russian security forces have contributed to the general unrest.
North Ossetia, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian, has generally seen less violence than other North Caucasus republics. But it is notorious as the site of the Beslan school siege tragedy, in which more than 330 children and adults were killed in September 2004.
North Ossetia also has its own history of bomb attacks. Alan Tskhurbayev, a former correspondent with RFE/RL's Russian Service, spoke to RFE/RL from the scene of the blast.
"It's necessary to say that this isn't the first blast in the Vladikavkaz central market. It's been the site of frequent explosions, starting in 1999, when 52 people were killed here," Tskhurbayev said. "If memory serves, this is already the fourth blast here, or something close to it."
Today's market blast comes 11 years to the day after a bomb destroyed an apartment block in the Russian capital Moscow, killing 94 people.
The Kremlin blamed the blast on Chechen militants and used the incident and subsequent blasts as a pretext for initiating a second federal war in Chechnya.
written by Daisy Sindelar in Prague, with material from RFE/RL's Russian Service and news agencies