Vladikavkaz, Russia: A suicide bomber killed at least 16 people and injured 100 Thursday at a market in the Russian Caucasus, the deadliest militant strike for months in the troubled region.
Officials said the blast in the city of Vladikavkaz was caused by a suicide bomber who drove up to a local market in an explosives-packed car and whose headless body was later discovered.
The bomb stuffed with metal bolts and metal bars created carnage around the busy market just before lunch, reducing several cars to wreckage and shattering windows of nearby buildings.
Half-naked charred corpses with disfigured faces were laid out on stretchers amid the remnants of tomatoes and melons from fruit stalls, as people wept looking for their loved ones.
“A headless man was sitting in a car and I realized that it was probably terrorists,” Zhanna Margiyeva, an office worker who went to the market during lunchtime, said through tears.
“I am scared. My kid uses public transportation every day. This can happen to any of us any time.”
Officials warned the death toll was likely to go up as many of the injured were in a critical condition.
The attack in the capital of the mainly Christian region of North Ossetia was the latest strike to hit the Russian Caucasus, plagued by an Islamist insurgency that has claimed scores of lives in the past months.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed to do everything to track down those behind the bombing.
“We will do everything to capture these monsters... these bastards, who carried out a terrorist act on ordinary people,” Medvedev said. “We will do everything to find and punish them.”
The death toll rose to 16 after an 18-months-old toddler died of his injuries, medical sources told AFP. The boy’s three-year-old brother was also in intensive care.
Maria Gatsoyeva, a spokeswoman for the regional investigators, said nearly 100 people had been wounded.
“A terrorist suicide bomber in a car parked at the entrance to the central market of Vladikavkaz ignited an explosive charge at 11:20 am (0720 GMT),” the investigative committee of Russian prosecutors said in a statement.
“The people who do this, these are people without a soul, without a heart,” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in his first reaction to the bombing.
“They have nothing holy. It is our common duty to fight these criminals,” he said at a meeting with Russian Muslim leaders to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Gatsoyeva said the blast had been caused by explosives weighing 30-40 kilogrammes of TNT equivalent.
North Ossetia lies at the heart of Russia’s troubled Northern Caucasus region, north of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia over which Moscow and Tbilisi fought a war in August 2008.
It is the only majority-Christian region in Russia’s largely Muslim North Caucasus and borders the Muslim region of Ingushetia, which has been beset by deadly attacks over the last months.
North Ossetia was the site of one of Russia’s most shocking tragedies in 2004 when more than 330 people died after armed Chechen rebels took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in the town of Beslan.
Although it has seen increasing unrest over the past years, North Ossetia has traditionally been more stable than the Muslim regions of the North Caucasus.
Separately, officials indicated Thursday that rebels had aimed to blow up the Irganaiskaya power plant in Dagestan, the second-largest in the Russian Caucasus.
Elena Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for major power producer RusHydro that runs the plant, told AFP that an explosive device had been found at the plant following a fire on Tuesday night.
Officials had earlier said that the fire was caused by a technical failure. Islamist website www.kavkazcenter.com said that the explosives had been planted by rebels.
Russia has been on a state of high alert after the double bombings carried out by two female suicide bombers on the Moscow metro on 29 March that killed 40 and wounded more than 100.