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Terror attacks raise Oly fears

Separate blasts kill at least 27 in Volgograd

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A police officer guards a taped-off main entrance to the Volgograd railway station that was hit by an explosion in Volgograd, Russia, Sunday.

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A police officer guards a taped-off main entrance to the Volgograd railway station that was hit by an explosion in Volgograd, Russia, Sunday.

MOSCOW -- A suicide bomber struck a busy railway station in southern Russia on Sunday, killing at least 17 people and wounding scores more, and an explosion on a trolleybus on Monday killed 10, officials said, in a stark reminder of the threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host February's Olympics in Sochi.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for either of the bombings in Volgograd, which came months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.

Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but many have been contained to the North Caucasus, the centre of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. Until recently Volgograd was not a typical target, but the city formerly known as Stalingrad has now been struck twice in two months -- suggesting militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.

Volgograd, which lies close to volatile Caucasus provinces, is 900 kilometres south of Moscow and about 650 kilometres northeast of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.

The bombings highlight the daunting security challenge Russia will face in fulfilling its pledge to make the Sochi Games the "safest Olympics in history." The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the games.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird described the suicide bombing as a "heinous crime" and called for those responsible to be identified and brought to justice.

'Canada strongly condemns today's cowardly act of terrorism in Volgograd. We continue to engage Russian officials in discussions on the special security arrangements that will be in place at Olympic venues, airports, border crossings and other sensitive areas'

-- Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird

"Canada strongly condemns today's cowardly act of terrorism in Volgograd," Baird said Sunday in a release.

"We continue to engage Russian officials in discussions on the special security arrangements that will be in place at Olympic venues, airports, border crossings and other sensitive areas," Baird added.

Through the day, officials issued conflicting statements on casualties. They also said the suspected suicide bomber was a woman, but then reversed themselves and said the attacker could have been a man.

The Interfax news agency quoted unidentified law enforcement agents as saying footage taken by surveillance cameras indicated the bomber was a man. It also reported it was further proven by a torn male finger ringed by a safety pin removed from a hand grenade, which was found on the site of the explosion.

The bomber detonated explosives in front of a metal detector just beyond the station's main entrance when a police sergeant became suspicious and rushed forward to check ID, officials said. The officer was killed by the blast, and several other policemen were wounded.

"When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device," Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation's top investigative agency, said in a statement earlier in the day. He added that the bomb contained about 10 kilograms of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel.

Markin later told Interfax the attacker could have been a man, but added that the investigation was still ongoing. He said another hand grenade, which didn't explode, was also found on the explosion site.

Markin argued that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed.

Markin said 13 people and the bomber were killed on the spot, and the regional government said two other people later died at a hospital. About 40 were hospitalized, many in grave condition.

Earlier in the day, Lifenews.ru, a Russian news portal that reportedly has close links to security agencies, even posted what it claimed was an image of the severed head of the female's attacker. It said the attacker appeared to have been a woman whose two successive rebel husbands had been killed by Russian forces in the Caucasus.

Female suicide bombers, many of whom were widows or sisters of rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia. They often have been referred to as "black widows."

Russian authorities have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and sweeping security measures ever seen at an international sports event.

Anyone wanting to attend the Games, which open on Feb. 7 will have to buy a ticket online from the organizers and obtain a "spectator pass" for access. Doing so will require providing passport details and contacts that will allow the authorities to screen all visitors and check their identities upon arrival.

The security zone created around Sochi stretches approximately 100 kilometres along the Black Sea coast and up to 40 kilometres inland. Russian forces include special troops to patrol the forested mountains towering over the resort, drones to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speed boats to patrol the coast.

The security plan includes a ban on cars from outside the zone from a month before the Games begin until a month after they end.

 

-- The Associated Press

Is the terrorist threat facing the Sochi games greater than previous Olympics? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2013 A3

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