A suicide bomber attacked a police station in Russia's North Caucasus with an explosives-laden truck Monday, killing at least 20 people and wounding at least 60 others, officials said.
The bombing was the deadliest in years in the restive southern region, denting Kremlin claims that the area was stabilizing after two wars in Chechnya and mounting violence in surrounding provinces since 1994. While most fighting in Chechnya has ended, Islamic militants continue to mount regular hit-and-run attacks and skirmishes in neighboring provinces.
The attacker on Monday rammed the truck through the gates of the Nazran city police headquarters, in Ingushetia province, and detonated about 440 pounds of explosives as police officers were lining up for a morning check, said Svetlana Gorbakova of the regional branch of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's office.
Police had fired shots at the truck, but failed to stop it. The blast triggered a raging fire that destroyed a weapons room where ammunition detonated.
It took rescue teams several hours to search for victims in the ruins. A nearby apartment building and several office buildings were also damaged, and burned-out cars littered the street. The attacker and the truck were pulverized by the blast, Gorbakova said.
At least 20 people were killed and 60 wounded, she said, though official figures on the number of wounded varied. Ruslan Koloyev, the acting head of the Emergency Ministry's branch in Ingushetia, said on Rossiya television that 92 people were injured.
Russia's Emergency Ministry sent a special plane to bring some of the wounded to Moscow for treatment.
3 days of mourning
An Associated Press reporter saw 11 badly burned bodies at a morgue in Nazran, the largest city in Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya to the west.
Local authorities announced a three-day mourning.
Ingushetia's Kremlin-appointed president, badly wounded in another suicide bombing in June, said Monday's attack had been organized by militants trying to avenge recent security sweeps in the forests along the mountainous border with Chechnya.
"It was an attempt to destabilize the situation and sow panic," Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said in a statement issued through his spokesman.
He blamed Chechen separatist warlord Doku Umarov for the June attack on his convoy, saying the perpetrators had been be tracked down, according to an interview with Russian News Service radio. He vowed to hunt down Umarov and other rebel warlords.
He also accused the United States, Britain and Israel of fomenting instability in the North Caucasus, saying "the West will try to prevent Russia from restoring its Soviet-era might." He did not elaborating.
Rights groups said arbitrary arrests, torture and killings by security forces had helped swell the ranks of rebels in Ingushetia under Yevkurov's predecessor, Murat Zyazikov.
Yevkurov, a former officer of the Russian GRU military intelligence service, has promised to end abuses and sought to negotiate pardons for some rebels who would agree to put down their weapons.