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Death toll hits 46 in Grozny

Published: Monday, Dec. 30 2002 9:48 a.m. MST

MOSCOW — Suicide bombers plowed two explosive-laden vehicles through a military perimeter and blew up the headquarters of Chechnya's pro-Russian government in Grozny on Friday, killing at least 46 people and wounding scores more in two terrific blasts.

It was the deadliest bombing inside Chechnya in more than three years of war, and it sent yet another powerful signal that militants seeking to split the semiautonomous Chechen region from Russia are far from being subdued.

The last signal came barely two months ago, when Chechen separatists took control of a Moscow theater and terrorized hundreds of hostages for several days. The government raid that ended that crisis resulted in nearly 130 civilian deaths.

The regional government office in Grozny, the Chechen capital — which was opened to great fanfare barely 20 months ago as a beacon of political stability — was among the most protected buildings in the area.

Russian television showed images Friday of civilians and soldiers, many soaked in blood, stumbling or being carried from the wreckage of the four-story concrete building. A huge crater near the entrance, more than a dozen feet deep, marked the site of the explosions.

On Friday night, Russia's Emergencies Ministry put the death toll at 46. Another 70 people were reported to have been taken to hospitals, at least 20 of them critically injured. But an Emergencies Ministry official said the number of injured could reach 200, because the blast had destroyed a nearby two-story building, containing a canteen and government offices, as well as the main building.

Wounded government workers were still being removed from the canteen and other areas Friday night, and three cranes were lifting concrete rubble in search of victims.

"We do not know so far how many people are still under the wreckage," Chechnya's acting prosecutor, Vladimir Kravchenko, told the Interfax news service.

In Grozny, a rubble-strewn wasteland since Russian jets destroyed it in late 1999, Hospital No. 9, the main hospital treating victims of the blast, was without power. Interfax reported that doctors were working by candlelight and flashlight.

The bombers, traveling in a large truck and an off-road vehicle, struck shortly before 2:30 p.m., barreling through the last gate of a heavily fortified perimeter surrounding the government headquarters. The blasts devastated the main building — blowing out all of its windows and extensively damaging its front — and largely destroyed the adjacent canteen.

It is not clear how the bombers gained access to the government complex, which was deliberately set on a barren stretch of land and divided into sectors walled off by concrete fences.

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