Mine Leaves 21 OMON Troops Dead
Published: April 19, 2002 (Issue # 763)
MOSCOW - In the biggest attack yet on Chechnya's police force, at least 21 elite OMON troops were killed Thursday after a land mine ripped through a convoy in Grozny.
The blast came just two hours after President Vladimir Putin said in his state of the nation address that the military stage of the Chechen conflict was over.
A van carrying the OMON servicemen, all Chechens, blew up after it ran over a land mine planted near the main poice headquarters in the north of Grozny, a spokesperson for the Chechen government, Andrei Pilipchuk, said by telephone from the Chechen capital. When another police vehicle arrived to help several minutes later, it also hit a land mine, he said.
Russian television showed the mangled remains of a bus and a truck and charred police identity papers collected at the site of the attack.
Alexander Machevsky, an aide to the Kremlin's chief spokesperson on Chechnya Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said that, according to the Chechen Interior Ministry, 17 service personnel were killed in the explosions and one severely wounded. Another six people were also wounded by the blasts, Interfax quoted Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Beslan Gantamirov as saying. Four service personnel later died in the hospital, The Associated Press reported.
Gantamirov said troops had wounded one of the perpetrators of the attack in an exchange of gunfire that followed the blasts and then captured him. Four more suspects in the attack were later detained in a search operation in Grozny, he told Interfax. An AP reporter in Grozny said the gunfire lasted for about 15 minutes, and RTR television said it came from a nearby high-rise building.
Gantamirov speculated that Chechen rebels timed the attack to coincide with Putin's speech. Putin reiterated Thursday his often-repeated claim that "the military stage of the conflict can be considered over." He said it was time to move on to reconstructing the region's infrastructure and judicial system.
Machevsky said the head of the Chechen OMON troops, Musa Gazimagomadov, had declared a personal vendetta against those behind the attacks. "I have no doubts that he will find them," he said.
Sultan Satuyev, first deputy head of the Chechen police, told NTV television that the police will stand firm against the rebels. "It seems they want to intimidate us," he said. "They will not succeed."
Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed head of the Chechen government, accused Chechen law enforcement of negligence in providing safety in the city. "I believe that the investigation into the terrorist attacks must necessarily include an inquiry into the actions of officials responsible for providing security in the city," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.