By Galina Stolyarova
Investigators say a terrorist attack was the likeliest cause of the Nevsky Express train crash on Friday night that claimed 26 lives and left more than 90 people injured.
The scenario was first publicly voiced on Saturday by Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways, before being confirmed by Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in reports on the investigation given directly to President Dmitry Medvedev.
The investigation has already distributed a photo-fit of two suspects, one of them a short, red-haired man of about 40 years of age with thin lips and a broad nose, and another tall, dark-haired man of about 30 to 35.
A number of nationalist blogs and sites reported that the radical youth group Combat-18 had claimed responsibility for the explosion, but analysts and critics both in nationalist circles and human rights groups have treated the claims with suspicion.
Galina Kozhevnikova, an expert with the Moscow-based Sova-center, which specializes in researching hate crime and nationalist movements, said Combat-18 is the sort of group that is only active on the Internet. “They have a high presence in cyber-space, but they haven’t gone as far as plotting any explosions yet.”
Extreme nationalist activist Alexander Belov, one of the founders of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, branded Combat-18’s alleged involvement as a red herring created by the security services.
The police have so far failed to offer any comments as to whether they have interrogated any members of Combat-18 or the bloggers who reported their alleged involvement.
Analysts and commentators are also actively discussing possible parallels between Friday’s apparent explosion and a Nevsky Express crash that took place on August 13, 2007, when the train was passing by the village of Malaya Vishera in the Novgorod region. Twelve carriages were derailed on that occasion. There were no fatalities, but several dozen people were injured.
The 2007 Nevsky Express case is currently being heard at the Novgorod City Court. A few days before the explosion last week, one of the defendants, Maksharip Khidriyev, made a confession, admitting that he carried explosive materials to the scene. As the police continue to search for Pavel Kosolapov, the alleged organizer of the 2007 crash, it has been speculated that he could have orchestrated Friday’s Nevsky Express explosion. Kosolapov, 29, is already wanted by the police for allegedly organizing terrorist attacks.
According to the police, upon completing army service, Kosolapov went to Chechnya, where he joined guerrillas, adopted Islam and became an explosives specialist. Since 2003, he is believed to have taken part in several bombings of bus stops in Krasnodar and metro stations in Moscow.
An insider close to the investigation told Interfax news agency on Monday that the nature of the crash suggested it was “a terrorist attack carefully prepared by a group of fanatics, rather than by a single criminal.”
“The type of the explosive material as well as the type of the explosive device both show that there was a group of criminals behind the attack,” the source said.
As rescue work continued on Saturday, another bomb went off near to the crash scene but the explosion was weak, it was reported.
In the meantime, some industry specialists have not yet been entirely convinced of the terrorism version. Yevgeny Kulikov, head of the Russian Independent Labor Union of Rail Workers was skeptical about the terrorist attack scenario in interviews broadcast on television on Monday and suggested that officials had jumped to conclusions far too quickly.
An experienced former train driver himself, Kulikov said a fault on the line or a train malfunction seemed far more realistic to him.
“The railroad officials are talking about terrorism in order to escape responsibility,” Kulikov said. “But if the train had run over a bomb, the front carriages would have been damaged. Instead, what happened was that the last carriages came off the rails. The loud sound heard by some witnesses could have just as easily been the sound of a broken rail caused by emergency braking.”
Kulikov accused Russian Railways of focusing exclusively on profit and failing to devote enough attention to repair works and maintenance issues.
The management of Russian Railways vehemently denied Kulikov’s allegations. “A technical malfunction is out of the question; this talk would only distract us from the real cause of the disaster, namely, an act of terrorism,” said Mikhail Akulov, vice president of Russian Railways, speaking on the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Monday.
Akulov said Russian Railways had adopted a series of additional security precautions and purchased new equipment, including a number of high sensitivity video surveillance cameras after the 2007 crash.
Source:The St.Petersburg Times