Deadly bomb blast kills 11 in metro attack
Russian authorities were hunting for two suspected terrorists last night after a bomb blast on the St Petersburg subway system killed 11 people and wounded dozens.
The explosion, which struck a crowded metro train near the historic city centre at 2.20pm local time, came as Vladimir Putin was visiting the city.
Shortly afterwards police discovered a larger, unexploded device at one of the city's busiest metro stations, prompting authorities to close the entire underground transport system.
Witnesses on board the crowded train said it was shaken by a "thundering clap" that filled the carriages with smoke shortly after it left the station.
"We all moved to the opposite end of the wagon, people jammed together and two women passed out. This all was happening while the train was still moving. It didn't stop," Polina, a student who was in the neighbouring carriage, said.
"A blast occurred at Sennaya Ploshchad metro station," was the stark police message to Russian news agency Tass. "Several people have been injured."
The driver of the train won praise for deciding to continue to the next station, Technology Institute, rather than stopping in the tunnel - a move that investigators said probably saved lives and made it easier for rescuers to reach the injured.
Videos posted on social media showed a carriage wreathed in smoke and dazed and frightened passengers trying to exit the subway tunnels, while others knelt over the bodies of the wounded and the dead.
"People were bleeding, their hair burnt. We were told to move to the exit, because the movement stopped," a witness told Russia's Life News.
"People just fled. My girlfriend was in the next car that exploded. She said that it began to shake. When she came out, she saw that people were mutilated."
The Russian president, who was meeting his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in a suburb of St Petersburg at the time, expressed his condolences after the "possible terror attack".
"The city authorities, and if needed, the federal authorities, will take the necessary measures to help the families of those affected by the blast," he said.
"The reasons behind it are not clear yet, and so it would be premature to speak about them," he cautioned. He later visited the site of the bomb to lay a wreath in memory of the victims.
Later, security sources told the Interfax news agency that the device was "homemade" with a blast equivalent to 200g of TNT. It appeared to have been packed full of shrapnel including metal nuts and bolts to cause maximum damage and had been left in the carriage in a backpack by the attacker, investigators said.
A second bomb, disguised as a fire extinguisher, was later found at the Ploshchad Vosstanaya metro station, which serves the mainline railway station that connects St Petersburg with Moscow.
The device, which apparently failed to explode, was reported to contain about 1kg of TNT equivalent, prompting speculation that it was intended as the main attack.
The Investigative Committee, Russia's senior security agency, opened a terrorism investigation and issued search warrants for two people in connection with the attack.
The suspects, who have not been named, were believed to have each planted one of the devices, the Interfax news agency reported.
Russian media published CCTV images of a bearded man they claimed was one alleged attacker.
However, it was later reported the man came forward to maintain his innocence.
No group had so far claimed responsibility for the blast.
St Petersburg authorities suspended metro services following the blasts and stepped up security at the city's international airport.
Russia's transport infrastructure has been repeatedly targeted by Islamist terror groups based in the North Caucasus. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Latest in a long line of atrocities in Russia
October 2015: Militants from local affiliate of Isil down a Russian airliner en route from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg over Egypt, killing all 224 on board.
October 2014: Suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blows himself up in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, killing five policemen and wounding 12.
December 2013: Back-to-back suicide bombings in the southern Russian city of Volgograd kill 34.
January 2011: Suicide bomber blows himself up at Domodedovo Airport, Moscow's busiest, killing 35 and injuring 180 people.
March 2010: Two suicide bombers attack Moscow subway system, setting off their explosives about 30 minutes apart on two trains during rush hour, killing at least 40 and injuring 100.
November 2009: A bomb explodes under the high-speed Nevsky Express train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, causing a derailment that kills 28 and injures nearly 100.
October 2005: Islamic militants launch a series of attacks on police in Nalchik, capital of the tense Kabardino-Balkariya republic near Chechnya. Chechen rebels claim credit for the attack, in which 139 people were killed, including 94 militants.
September 2004: About 30 Chechen militants seize a school in the southern town of Beslan and take hundreds of hostages - a siege that ended in a bloodbath two days later. More than 330 people, about half of them children, are killed.