Russian train crash kills dozens, attack suspected
At least 39 people were killed and nearly 100 injured when a Russian express train was derailed late on Friday in what the head of the national railway company said could have been a bomb attack.
Russian prosecutors said on Saturday they had opened a criminal case on charges of terrorism and illegal possession of explosives but did not say what could have been the motive behind any attack or who they might suspect.
“There is objective evidence that ... a blast from an explosive device is one of the explanations for the Nevsky Express incident,” Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin told reporters at the scene.
The Nevsky Express, carrying 661 passengers from Moscow to St Petersburg, was derailed at 6.34pm GMT near the village of Uglovka about 350km north of Moscow.
A Reuters photographer saw soldiers carrying four body bags away from the scene where rescue workers cut through the tangled steel to search for survivors in two wrecked train carriages.
Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu was told by a ministry official on a video conference shown live on Vesti-24 state television that the death toll had risen to 39 after more bodies had been pulled from wrecked carriages.
Ministry officials later said only 25 people had been confirmed as dead, though they said the toll could rise and that at least 18 people were still unaccounted for.
The derailment is Russia’s worst train accident for years and may raise fears of a surge in attacks on the Russian heartland by rebels from the North Caucasus.
After a blast in August 2007 that derailed a Nevsky Express train on the same line and injured at least 30 people, prosecutors arrested two residents of Ingushetia and charged them with helping to carry out the attack.
Russian prosecutors said they believed ex-soldier Pavel Kosolapov, a former associate of the late Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, was the mastermind behind that blast. Kosolapov is still on the run.
Interfax news agency said a one-metre wide crater had been found next to the railway track, though Reuters reporters at the scene did not see one.
A railway official who asked not to be named said a witness had reported hearing a loud bang, though another passenger told reporters in St Petersburg there had been no blast.
President Dmitry Medvedev has been informed about the derailment which has delayed 27 000 people as transport officials try to divert trains along smaller lines.
In Washington, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said: “We are deeply saddened by the terrible loss of life and injuries resulting from the reported derailment of a train between Moscow and St Petersburg.” - Reuters.