The day suicide bombers came to a Moscow rock concert - and left 20 dead
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Sunday July 6, 2003
The black sheeting looked like bin liners as paramedics yesterday tried to cover up the shredded remains of the 20 dead from the first suicide bombing to hit Moscow.
One girl, in her early twenties, lay on the tarmac outside the Kruiliya (Wings) Rock Festival, her eyes blank and black to the summer sky, her skin already the drained, lifeless colour of her beige skirt.
Paramedic's latex gloves were strewn across the entrance to the underpass near the Tushino subway, blood on concrete steps that before 2.45 yesterday afternoon had been brimming with 40,000 rock fans, drinking beer with their shirts off in the hot sun, waiting for the start of the Russian equivalent of the Reading Festival.
Broken sunglasses, syringes and part of a leg littered the street.
Ninety minutes after two female suicide bombers, one of them Chechen, had detonated themselves at two spots outside the Tushino Aerodrome where the rock festival was being held, forensic experts were milling around the corpses, the black bags preserving little of their dignity.
The bands played on to prevent a panic, guitar melodies ringing out surreally over the scene of carnage. From the passport found on her remains, Russian officials identified one of the bombers as Zalikhan Elikhadzhiyeva, 20, from the Chechen village of Kurchaloi.
Both women were wearing 'Shakhid belts', devices used by suicide bombers that strap explosives together with ball bearings and nails to the chest.
Elikhadzhiyeva approached the crowded entrance of the Vuishevii Market next to the Tushino Aerodrome. Her colleague, not yet identified, went to the ticket queue.
Elikhadzhiyeva's bomb killed herself and 13 others. The other blast killed three. A total of 17 are confirmed dead, but the 40 more injured have led doctors to estimate the blasts will claim 20 lives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the relatives of the victims yesterday. The attack came the day Putin announced that the separatist republic would hold presidential elections on 5 October this year. The plan to impose new elections for a president and parliament has drawn widespread criticism, many fearing the elections will be undemocratic and result in the continued rule of the region by Akhmad Kadyrov, the current Moscow-backed head of the administration.
The first suicide bombing in the Russian capital has raised fears of a campaign up to the October elections, which separatists oppose as a continuation of Russian martial law on the republic.
Suicide blasts are common in Chechnya, often carried out by women grieving for their sons, husbands and families killed by Russians in the war or during their brutal 'clean-up' operations. Last year's attack on a Moscow theatre raised the spectre of suicide bombers, with fighters strapping explosives to their bodies.
The two explosions - with an estimated force of 500g TNT - were a short space apart, Boris Gryzlov, Russia's Interior Minister, said. A third blast came 20 minutes later, when bomb disposal experts detonated the remains of the device on the unidentified bomber's body.
Eye-witness Vlad, 20, told The Observer: 'I was sitting around, near the entrance, when I saw two cars pull up, and saw two people get out. Then I heard one small noise, a bit like a handclap. It was not very loud. I looked up, saw nothing, and took a sip from my beer. But then the second one went off. I looked up suddenly, and saw splashes of blood fly everywhere. It was a very loud blast.
'Eighteen months ago I served in Chechnya, and that sort of blast noise is similar to an anti-tank mine. I will never forget it. Everyone then started running and screaming. The one ambulance arrived, then a second, then the police.'
Filip Saviliev, 21, a medical student, said: 'I was queuing to get tickets when suddenly I heard a strong explosion. I felt a terrible blow and a pain in my ears. My friend and I, as medical students, started helping the wounded.'
Rock fans had been queuing in the hope of seeing top Russian acts like Spleen, Mashina Vremeniye, Zemfira and B-2. Fans strewed the street, the sun enhancing the effects of the strong Russian beer.
Gryzlov said the bombers detonated their devices before reaching police checkpoints. 'If the explosions had occurred on the field itself, the consequences would have been far more serious.'
More by Nick Paton Walsh
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article