MOSCOW — A suicide bomber attacked Moscow’s busiest airport on Monday,
killing dozens of people and injecting new pain into a country already
split along ethnic lines.
There was no indication on Monday night of who was behind the blast.
Past terrorist attacks have been traced to militants in the North
Caucasus, a predominantly Muslim region in the south of Russia. And the
city was on edge even before the attacks, after ethnic Russian
nationalists lashed out violently at migrants from the troubled region
The attack inflicted a deep injury on Moscow’s image just as President
Dmitri A. Medvedev prepared to woo foreign investors at the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The bomb — set off in the
international arrivals hall of Domodedovo, the city’s glittering
showcase airport — killed and wounded visitors from the West, something
that has occurred very rarely in previous terrorist attacks.
But Russians were too shocked Monday night to focus on the implications.
The smoke was so thick after the blast that it was hard to count the
dead. Hours later arriving passengers stepped into the hall to see the
wounded still being loaded onto stretchers. Ambulances sped away crowded
with three or four patients apiece, bleeding heavily from shrapnel
wounds. By nightfall, officials reported that at least 35 people had
been killed and 168 wounded.
“They pushed them away on baggage carts,” said Aleksei Spiridonov, who
works at an auto rental booth a few yards from the site of the blast.
“They were wheeling them out on whatever they could find.”
Russia’s leaders have struggled, with a good measure of success, to keep
militants from the North Caucasus from striking in the heartland. In
March, two female suicide bombers detonated themselves on the city’s
subway, killing more than 40 people — an act that the Chechen militant
leader Doku Umarov claimed to have ordered, promising Russians that “the
war will come to your streets.”
Mr. Umarov’s organization also took responsibility for the bombing of a
luxury train, the Nevsky Express, which killed 28 in November 2009.
Monday’s attack could also have political implications, coming after a
period of tentative liberalization. In the past, such attacks have
strengthened the influence of Russian security forces and Prime Minister
Vladimir V. Putin by firmly establishing security as the country’s top
The bomber apparently entered the international arrivals terminal from
outside, advancing to the cordon where taxi drivers and relatives wait
to greet arriving passengers. The area is open to the general public,
said Yelena Galanova, an airport spokeswoman, according to the Interfax
Artyom Zhilenkov, a taxi driver who was in that crowd, said he was
standing about 10 yards from a short, dark-complexioned man with a
suitcase — the bomber, he believes. Authorities said the blast occurred
at 4:32 p.m. local time, as passengers from Italy, Tajikistan and
Germany emerged from customs.
“How did I manage to save myself? I don’t know,” Mr. Zhilenkov said, his
track suit dotted with blood and small ragged holes. “The people behind
me on my left and right were blown apart. Maybe because of that.”
Another witness, Yuri, who did not give his last name, told Russia’s
state-run First Channel TV that the shock wave was strong enough to
throw him to the floor and blow his hat away.
After that, the hall filled with thick smoke and part of the ceiling collapsed, said Mr. Spiridonov, the auto rental worker.
Thirty-one people died at the site of the explosion, one in an ambulance
and three in hospitals, the Health Ministry said. Among the wounded
were French and Italian citizens, according to the Health and Social
Development Ministry. At least two Britons died, said a spokesman for
the Investigative Committee.
Witnesses said many of the victims suffered terrible wounds to their faces, limbs and bodies.
“One person came out and fell,” Olga Yaholnikova told RenTV television. “And there was a man with half of his body torn away.”
Mr. Medvedev, who was scheduled to give a keynote address in Davos on
Wednesday, postponed his trip to manage the aftermath of the attack. He
gave brief televised remarks almost immediately, telling Russians that
he believed the blast was a terrorist act.
Mr. Putin also appeared on television on Monday night, gravely ordering
the health minister to provide aid to all the bombing victims, visiting
clinics one by one, if necessary, he said.
In Washington, President Obama condemned what he called an “outrageous act of terrorism” and offered assistance.
The State Department said it had not received confirmation of any Americans who had been killed or wounded at the airport.
The airport, southeast of the capital, is Russia’s largest airline hub,
with more than 20 million passengers passing through last year.
Domodedovo was the site of a previous terror attack, in August 2004,
when two Chechen suicide bombers boarded separate planes there, killing
themselves and 88 others in midair. The attack exposed holes in
security, since the two bombers, both women, had been detained shortly
before boarding, but were released by a police supervisor. The
authorities have since worked to tighten security.
The airport remained open on Monday evening, and passengers continued to
flow through the hall where the bomb had exploded. Gerald Zapf, who
landed shortly after the blast, said his airplane circled the airport
several times before landing, and passengers were forced to wait for
some time before they could debark.
When they finally made it into the airport, he said, he and the other
passengers were led past sheets of blue plastic, which hid signs of the
carnage. Meanwhile, transportation officials had ordered “100 percent
control of passengers and visitors and their baggage, including their
hand baggage,” resulting in long, snaking lines and shoving matches at
the airport’s entrances.
Monday’s explosion pointed to the continuing fascination with air travel
for militants and the difficulty of carrying out an attack aboard a
jet, said Stephen A. Baker, a former official with the Department of
Homeland Security. “They’d like to be bombing planes and they can’t, so
they’re bombing airports,” he said.