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Chechnya bomb: Security criticized

The bomb destroyed the building housing the Federal Security Service.
The bomb destroyed the building housing the Federal Security Service.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Criticism is mounting in Russia that lax security permitted Monday's attack on Chechen government buildings in which at least 52 people were killed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the bombing, which left nearly 200 people injured, on rebels seeking to disrupt the establishment of a new government after more than three years of war.

It was the second major terrorist attack against a government installation in the breakaway region in six months.

Russia's Izvestia daily newspaper said Tuesday the vast majority of local administration buildings in Chechnya were "practically defenseless against terrorists."

Two regional government buildings in the town of Znamenskoye were damaged in the Monday's suicide blast.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said 88 people were in hospital with 57 of the victims in serious condition. An estimated 100 people were hurt but did not require treatment.

The U.S. White House has condemned Monday's attacks and expressed condolences for the victims.

"We resolutely condemn all terrorist acts and senseless violence against civilians in Chechnya," a written statement released by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, said.

Rescue workers continued to sift through the wreckage for survivors.
Rescue workers continued to sift through the wreckage for survivors.

"No political, national, or religious cause justifies the use of terrorism."

The statement said further that "we continue to urge a political settlement of the Chechnya conflict that respects Russia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, stops the violence, and ends human rights violations."

Putin said: "It is evident that terrorist acts like the one (Monday) ... have one principal goal, and that is to stop the process of normalization in Chechnya."

A March constitutional referendum was meant to cement the breakaway Muslim republic into Russia. The Kremlin and Chechnya's Moscow-appointed administration portrayed the referendum as a key step toward peace and a return to normal life in the region.

Monday's attack occurred in Znamenskoye, the main town in the Nadterechny district, north of Grozny. Nadterechny district head Sultan Akhmetkhanov said the blast came at 10:10 a.m. local time.

A truck drove through a security checkpoint, despite gunfire from Russian troops, and crashed through a wall barricading the buildings.

The explosion damaged a regional administration building and a federal services building, as well as eight private homes in the area. It left a crater 2 meters deep and 16 meters wide.

Most of those killed were civilians, Russia's security chief said. Emergency workers continued to dig through rubble on Monday looking for victims.

Russian troops invaded Chechnya in 1999 after a string of attacks blamed on Chechen separatists who had fought Moscow to a standstill three years earlier. Guerrilla attacks on Russian forces have persisted since then.

Chechnya's leaders have vowed to crack down on extremists' attacks and bring more security to the region. But Monday's attack is seen as a sign that Muslim rebel groups continue to have a presence in northern Chechnya, which is largely more pro-Russian than southern areas of the territory.

The bombing comes five months after a truck-bomb attack on the headquarters of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration in Grozny killed at least 50 people. (Full Story)

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