MOSCOW, Dec 28, (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said an explosion that tore through a Saint Petersburg supermarket, wounding 13 people, was an act of terror, as footage of the suspected bomber spread on the internet.
Speaking at a meeting with military officers in the Kremlin, Putin ordered the nation’s security services to “act decisively” and “liquidate bandits on the spot” if armed militants put up resistance. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters later that the Russian leader was referring to all those “who harbour plans to carry out acts of terror in our country.” On Wednesday evening, a homemade bomb placed in a locker at the supermarket in northwestern Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city and Putin’s hometown, exploded. “As you know, an act of terror took place in Saint Petersburg yesterday,” Putin said at a ceremony to award officers who took part in the Syria campaign.
Those wounded in the attack included a 35-year-old pregnant woman. Putin’s 2015 decision to intervene in Syria militarily on the side of Bashar al- Assad has made Russia a priority target for the Islamic State group. Anna Mityanina, vice governor of Saint Petersburg, said on Twitter that six people remain in hospital care.
The bomb came after the FSB security service said earlier this month it had prevented a terror attack on a key Orthodox cathedral in Saint Petersburg with the help of America’s CIA, which led Putin to thank US President Donald Trump. The explosion occurred at around 1845 local time (1545 GMT) as people geared up to celebrate the New Year — the country’s biggest holiday — followed by Russian Orthodox Christmas, which falls on Jan 7.
Officials said the bomb had power equivalent to 200 grammes of TNT. The investigation is being overseen by Russia’s National Anti-Terror Committee even though authorities initially opened a probe into attempted murder. The committee said the explosion went off after “a criminal placed an unidentified explosive device in a storage locker.” Footage posted online by local media showed a man — who did not appear Slavic and wore a hooded jacket — enter the supermarket with a backpack and leave without it a short time afterwards.
Saint Petersburg is home to tens of thousands of migrants many of whom come from majority-Muslim Central Asia. Putin’s spokesman Peskov rejected concerns that Saint Petersburg had become especially vulnerable in the face of terrorism.
Here is a reminder of the principal attacks Russia suffered in 2017:
■ On April 3, a bomb in the Saint Petersburg metro killed 15 people and wounded dozens. The attacker, a 22 year-old national of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, also died in the blast. The “Imam Shamil Battalion”, a little known al-Qaeda linked group, claimed responsibility. The deadly blast was the first in Russia since Oct 31, 2015, when a bomb exploded on a plane carrying Russian holidaymakers from Egypt, killing all 224 people on board. IS claimed the attack, which came a month after Moscow launched air raids in Syria to shore up Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
■ On April 6, IS claimed responsibility for the killings of two traffic policemen in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan as well as an attack that wounded three National Guard soldiers in the same city.
■ On Aug 19, a knife attacker wounded seven people on the street in Surgut, a city in Western Siberia, before being shot by police. IS claimed responsibility, although authorities ruled out terrorism.
■ On Aug 28, two men stabbed one policeman to death and wounded another in Russia’s North Caucasus Dagestan republic before being shot dead by police in an attack claimed by IS.