Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Russia Bomber Is Identified, Officials Say, as Death Toll Rises
New York Times
APRIL 4, 2017

A mourner at the Technology Institute metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Tuesday. Credit Till Rimmele/European Pressphoto Agency

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — A native of Kyrgyzstan who had a Russian passport was responsible for the deadly blast in St. Petersburg, the Kyrgyz and Russian authorities said on Tuesday, as the toll from the attack rose to 14 dead and more than 60 injured.

The Investigative Committee of Russia, the main federal law enforcement agency, released a statement saying that the man who had detonated the bomb on a subway car was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, 22.

Forensic experts also found his DNA on a bag left at the Vosstaniya Square metro station, the statement said. A more powerful bomb was discovered there and defused soon after the explosion that occurred on Monday just as a train departed another station, Sennaya Square.

The genetic link as well as CCTV footage led investigators to believe that Mr. Dzhalilov had blown himself up and had wanted to bomb the Vosstaniya Square station, the statement said.

Earlier, the Kyrgyz government identified Mr. Dzhalilov as a native of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, who had received Russian citizenship. He had been living in Russia since 2011, when he became a citizen, the Interfax news agency reported.

There was some indication that Mr. Dzhalilov had not acted alone. Some Russian news reports said that investigators were seeking another young man and a woman from Central Asia, but there was no official confirmation.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, and there is no information linking the suicide bomber to an extremist Islamist group.

“It has been established that the explosive device may have been brought into action by a man whose fragmented remains were found in the third car of the train,” Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee said in an earlier statement broadcast on state-run television. “He has been identified, but information about him is not being disclosed yet for the benefit of the investigation.”

The authorities in the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, which are predominantly Muslim, have said that the Islamic State militant group has recruited hundreds of fighters from the region. The Islamist insurgency in the northern Caucasus has also provided thousands of fighters.

In addition to killing 14, the blast on Monday wounded 64 others, Aleksandr Rzhanenkov, a St. Petersburg official, said at a news briefing. The wounded included citizens of Belarus, Latvia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, he said, as well as Ukrainians from the embattled eastern region of Donetsk.

Members of the Islamic State have periodically threatened to carry out attacks in Russia in retaliation for its intervention in the Syrian conflict, among other reasons.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, while not confirming any details of the investigation, said it was wrong to portray the attack as a result of Russia’s intervention in Syria.

“As far as the discussions by several media outlets that the terrorist act is a revenge for our Syria policy, this is cynical and despicable,” he said during a news conference with his Kyrgyz counterpart, broadcast live on state television.

Erlan B. Abdyldaev, the Kyrgyz foreign minister, confirmed at the news conference that the suspect was a Russian citizen who was a native of Kyrgyzstan. The investigation would reveal if the suspect had any ties to radical Islamist movements, he said.

Briefing reporters earlier in the day, Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, said that it was too early to confirm any details.

A suicide bombing is “one of the versions being considered,” he told reporters. “Investigative authorities will chose in their own good time when to make public this or that information emerging in the course of investigation.”

President Trump called Mr. Putin late Monday to express his condolences, Mr. Peskov said, but the conversation was limited to expressions of support. Mr. Putin repeated his desire to cooperate with the United States in fighting international terrorism.

“Both President Trump and President Putin agreed that terrorism must be decisively and quickly defeated,” a White House statement said about the call.

Photographs on Mr. Dzhalilov’s page on VKontakte, a social media network, the last of which was posted 18 months ago, show a slim teenager growing into a muscular young man with a beard. The last photograph, shows him wearing a baseball cap, a green hoodie and a black Adidas puffer vest.

There is a link on his page to the Islamic website Tawba, or Repentance, which posted automatic messages about the faith every few hours.

The photographs showed that Mr. Dzhalilov had an interest in martial arts as well as fast cars, and they included souvenir shots taken around St. Petersburg with a few friends.

“He wasn’t a very advanced fighter, he came, had a few fights and then left,” said Salam Khudoerzoda, who practices the sambo martial art and combat sport and said he vaguely remembered encountering Mr. Dzhalilov more than four years ago at a gym. “If he was a big fighter, I would know him.”

In the Kyrgyz city of Osh, a representative of the security services said Mr. Dzhalilov’s family had been questioned, Interfax reported. The neighbors were quoted as saying that they thought the suspect had done metalwork to repair cars in St. Petersburg.

On Tuesday morning, Alexander Drozdenko, governor of the Leningrad region that surrounds St. Petersburg, the former imperial capital, which was named Leningrad during the Soviet era, rode on the Metro to try to reassure a jittery population that the system was safe.

The explosion in St. Petersburg, which ended a lull in terrorist attacks on Russia’s main urban centers, came midafternoon on Monday and rocked the third car of a metro train.

The blast occurred just as the train departed the Sennaya Square station, one of the busiest transportation hubs in central St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. The train was able to reach the next station, the Technology Institute, where the full extent of the carnage became clear.

The toll could have been much higher: A second bomb, disguised as a fire extinguisher, was found at a nearby station, but it was disarmed. Security was increased at major transportation facilities across Russia, including the Moscow Metro.

The driver of the train, Alexander Kaverin, said he had no time to be afraid after the blast.

“I couldn’t think about fear at that moment, I had to work,” he said at a news conference. “According to standard instructions, I had to move the train to the next station.”

Kyrgyzstan is a small, landlocked, predominantly Muslim nation in Central Asia, and it is a source of many migrant workers in Russia.

The Russian authorities have long feared that radicalized militants from the former Soviet states, who can travel freely to Russia, might carry out attacks. Many Russian nationalists have argued for the introduction of visa requirements for those countries, but the Russian government has sought to avoid doing so in the interest of preserving good relations.

Central Asians fill many of the menial jobs in the Russian economy, working in construction and restaurant jobs and as taxi drivers, and the debate about their role often echoes one about Hispanic immigrants in the United States.

Mr. Putin deployed the Russian military to Syria in September 2015, intending to fight militants there before they could return to carry out attacks in Russia. Thus far, the military has mostly concentrated on shoring up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria rather than on attacking the Islamic State, however.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, although Russian militants in Syria have threatened reprisals back home. In a video posted on YouTube in July, a masked man driving across a desert landscape warned, “Listen, Putin, we will come to Russia and kill you at your homes.”

Follow Ivan Nechepurenko @INechepurenko and Neil MacFarquhar @NeilMacFarquhar on Twitter.

Ivan Nechepurenko reported from St. Petersburg, and Neil MacFarquhar from Moscow. Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow.

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