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Toll in Russia Climbs to 41 in Bombing at a Hospital
By SABRINA TAVERNISE and STEVEN LEE MYERS
OZDOK, Russia, Aug. 2, 2003 - Vera Khalitskaya's daughter-in-law, Yelena,
lay buried today somewhere in the shattered wreckage of a military
hospital here, along with perhaps 17 other people still missing,
victims of the latest of the suicide bombings that have struck
Russia over the spring and summer.
Her son, Vladimir, kept a vigil outside, fearing the worst, as
cranes and backhoes clawed through the ruins of the hospital and
soldiers formed bucket brigades atop a two-story heap of rubble. He
said he was overwrought, in no position to speak.
"Everything collapsed in one moment," said Mrs. Khalitskaya, who was
watching Vladimir's and Yelena's 30-month-old son, Danil, at her
home. "Our whole family."
On Friday, a suicide bomber drove a truck through a metal gate,
swept past a heavily guarded checkpoint and detonated a bomb at the
base of the hospital. Today, the toll of confirmed dead rose
steadily, reaching 41 by tonight. At least 77 others were wounded,
some of them gravely.
The attack increased the fear and anger across Russia, especially
here in Mozdok, a city of 60,000 that has now endured two suicide
attacks in less than two months. The city is just 35 miles from the
Friday's bombing - the eighth attack involving suicide bombers since
mid-May and one of the deadliest - appeared to be part of a new
campaign by Chechnya's separatist guerrillas to escalate the war and
extend its violence beyond the southern republic's borders.
The bombings - four in Chechnya itself, two in Moscow and two here -
have killed more than 150 people and wounded scores more. They have
continued in spite of - and some experts believe because of - a
political effort begun by the Kremlin to end the war gradually; the
effort has included a constitutional referendum that Chechens
overwhelmingly approved in March.
Elections for a new president for the republic are now scheduled for
Oct. 5, and President Vladimir V. Putin, making his first extensive
remarks on the latest attack, said they would proceed.
"The terrorists will be unable to impose their criminal will," he
said in a telegram of condolence sent to the families of the
victims, according to the Interfax news agency. "Their bloody, evil
deeds will not stop the process of a political settlement and the
restoration of normal peaceful life in Chechnya."
The bombings have also exposed the inability of Russian security
forces to stop the attacks, though officials have reported thwarting
some by seizing caches of explosive, including five "suicide belts"
found on Moscow's outskirts last week.
Russia's defense minister, Sergei B. Ivanov, who visited the
hospital's ruins today after being sent by Mr. Putin, suggested that
troops guarding the hospital had violated security procedures,
though he did not elaborate. A Russian intelligence official,
standing outside the building, said the Russian Army's intelligence
agency had warned of an attack in Mozdok on Aug. 1 or 2.
Tatyana V. Avilova, a nurse's aide who worked in a separate
single-story clinic beside the hospital, said she had heard the
truck plow through the gate and its engine roar as it accelerated
toward the hospital before exploding. She said no guards had opened
The force of the explosion - estimated to have been the equivalent
of a ton of TNT - collapsed the ceiling above her, trapping doctors,
nurses and patients alike. She had left the main hospital building
only 10 minutes earlier.
What followed was chaos and helplessness. While soldiers helped
rescue some of the wounded, there was little to do to save those
trapped in the main hospital. Lt. Col. Aleksandr M. Koval, a
spokesman for Russian Army forces based at the military outpost
here, said today that only one survivor had been found in the
The suicide attacks, practically unheard of just a year ago, are
becoming a terrifying part of everyday life, and not only in
Thomas de Waal, an expert on Chechnya at the Institute for War and
Peace Reporting in London, said in an interview today that the
tactic appeared to reflect not only the radicalization of the
Chechen rebels but also their fractionalization, with some groups
adopting an extremist Islamic fundamentalism.
"As a mass phenomenon, this is definitely new," he said. "The idea
of Chechen suicide bombers would have been unthinkable five or six
years ago. It's transforming the war."
The radicalization of the tactics by some Chechen fighters appears
to have only hardened the views of many Russians, from Mr. Putin to
Colonel Koval, who called suicide bombers "scoundrels for whom there
should be no place on earth."
In Mozdok, the latest bombing has stoked underlying suspicions of
Chechens and has also raised fears that the suicide attacks mean
that no place is safe, as well as a widely held resignation that
there is little prospect that the war will end soon.
"Today it's here; tomorrow it's there; the day after tomorrow
somewhere else," Anna M. Karapetyan, a pensioner, said today,
articulating the anxiety felt by many here.
"Everyone is afraid," said Svetlana Bogachova, whose husband,
Aleksandr, lay in bed at the city's main civilian hospital, his head
wrapped in a crude gauze bandage. He was working in a cardboard
factory next to the hospital. Two, perhaps three, of his colleagues
He said he was angry, but most of all, he said, "I feel
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