Truck bomb kills 20 in Russia

NAZRAN: A truck packed with explosives rammed through the gates of a police compound in southern Russia on Monday and exploded in an apparent suicide attack that killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens, officials said.

The attack in the city of Nazran, the main city in Ingushetia, occurred as police officers lined up for roll call at the start of their morning shift. It killed and wounded police officers in the compound and local residents in homes nearby, officials said.

The blast site was a scene of devastation with overturned cars, twisted rubble and burned trees littering the ground under a thin pall of grey smoke and the broken windows of nearby apartment buildings.

The attack, four days after the Kremlin said Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was returning to work despite still recovering from injuries sustained in a bomb attack in June, underscored growing fears over stability in the region.

The Moscow-based Investigative Committee of the State Prosecutor's office said that 20 people were killed and around 60 others, including at least 10 children, were wounded and taken to hospital as a result of the attack.

A spokesman for Yevkurov, Kaloi Akhilgov, told AFP that all the dead were police officers, while many of those injured were from residential buildings adjacent to the police station.

Local officials declared three days of mourning.

Investigators said a Russian-made Gazelle light truck had crashed through the security gate at the Nazran police headquarters and sped into the inner grounds of the facility.

"A powerful explosion occurred after this," the Investigative Committee said in a statement, adding that it caused "significant damage" to the building.

Local officials said the truck blew up near the police armamament depot, setting off explosions of ammunition that shook the area well after the initial blast and that hampered search and rescue operations.

The emergency situations ministry dispatched a large plane to the airport at Beslan, nearby site of the horrific 2004 school hostage massacre, and officials said those most seriously hurt in Monday's attack would be evacuated for treatement at hospitals in Moscow.

Violent attacks by militants on Russian law enforcement personnel have become an almost daily occurrence in Ingushetia, but Akhilgov said Monday's blast was extraordinary.

"We have not had such an attack for a long time," he said, adding: "There is not enough blood" to treat the injured.

Yevkurov, who was nearly killed in an attempt on his life on June 22, blamed Islamist militants for the attack.

"The militants have carried out this terrorist act with the aim of destabilizing the situation in the republic and raising their own significance," he said, in comments relayed by his spokesman.

Ingushetia is one of seven administrative territories known as "republics" that constitute the North Caucasus region in southern Russia, the most unstable part of the country.

Last Wednesday, the republic's construction minister, Ruslan Amerkhanov, was shot dead in a brazen attack in his office.

The spectacular attacks have fueled fears that the situation in Ingushetia, which neighbours Chechnya, was quickly getting beyond the control of federal authorities.

Moscow has struggled to impose the Kremlin's authority in the volatile North Caucasus region, which has been the site of two full-fledged wars in Chechnya and countless attacks since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.