Explosion in St. Petersburg Metro Kills 14, Wounds Over 50
No group has claimed credit for the attack and Russia isn’t blaming terrorism yet.
Fourteen people were killed and at least 50 injured in an explosion on the Russian city of St. Petersburg’s metro Monday. The explosion tore through a metro car in a tunnel between the city’s Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskiy Institut metro stations Monday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m. Interfax is reporting the attack was caused by a 23-year-old suicide bomber from Central Asia. Shortly thereafter, Fontanka reported the attacker was Maksim Arishev, a 22-year-old from Kazakhstan. Then, on Tuesday, Russia’s Investigative Committee named the attacker: Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, a 22-year-old originally from Kyrgyzstan.
However, no group or individual has claimed responsibility for attack and Russia hasn’t blamed terrorism yet. Islamic State supporters, however, said on Monday that the attack was in retaliation for Russia’s actions in Syria. Russian state television, meanwhile, is implying a connection between the attack and last week’s anti-corruption protests.
One top Russian official initially called it a terrorist attack, but backtracked after Russian President Vladimir Putin said authorities were looking into “all possible causes, terrorism as well as common crime.” There were also reports of a second explosion at Sennaya Ploshchad, but that appeared to just be smoke. There was just one explosion.
Some speculated that, if it were a terror attack, it was perhaps timed to coincide with Putin’s visit. He was in St. Petersburg, his hometown, on Monday.
Putin expressed his condolences to the victims’ loved ones and offered assurances that security services would get to the bottom of the situation. went ahead with his meeting with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev described it as “a common pain” — that is, that this hurt all Russians.
World leaders — even in countries traditionally hostile to Russia, such as Estonia and Poland — offered their condolences. U.S. President Donald Trump, for his part, called the attack a “terrible thing. Happening all over the world. Absolutely a terrible thing.” The U.S. State Department issued a statement that read simply, “The United States condemns today’s reprehensible attack on passengers of the St. Petersburg metro system. We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who were killed, and our thoughts and prayers are with those injured in the attack and with the Russian people.”
Alexander Kurennoi, a spokesman for the Russian prosecutor-general’s office, now says it is too early to say anything about the causes of the blast. “A group of staff from the St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office, headed by the city prosecutor, Sergei Litvinenko, is currently working at the scene. It is still too early to draw any conclusions.” No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Russian state media outlet Interfax is reporting metro security cameras have footage of the suspected bomber.
Meanwhile, Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, called the explosion, “a monstrous terrorist act,” while various Russian media outlets circulated a photo of a bearded man in a long black robe whom they claimed was responsible for the attack. But that person came forward to make clear that he was not the attacker.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee also confirmed an improvised explosive device was found and defused outside the Vosstaniya metro station in St. Petersburg.
Footage and photos of the carnage at the site of the main blast quickly made their way around the internet.
“I was going down the escalator at Sennaya square at about half past 2, and at that moment I felt an explosion wave underneath. Everything was filled with smoke, people started panicking. So the trains stopped and almost immediately the evacuation started,” one witness at the station, Stanislav Listyev, told CNN.
Medical helicopters landed on the street to quickly evacuate the victims.
St. Petersburg closed its metros in response to the blast, although it was up and running again before 9 pm local time. St. Petersburg’s governor declared three days of mourning, beginning Tuesday. Russia’s capital Moscow is keeping its metros open with extra security measures in place.
Authorities are cautious to immediately pin the blame on terrorism, but Russia has experienced terror attacks of a similar nature before. Suicide bombers killed 40 and wounded over 100 in attacks in an attack on Moscow’s metro in March, 2010. A high-speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg was bombed in November, 2009, killing 26 and wounding over 100. Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov claimed credit for both attacks.
This post will be updated as the story develops.
FP’s Reid Standish contributed to this report.
Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin