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World - Europe

Russian bomb scare turns out to be anti-terror drill

September 24, 1999
Web posted at: 11:39 a.m. EDT (1539 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

MOSCOW (CNN) -- A bomb scare that led to the frantic nighttime evacuation of an apartment in a western Russia city was only a security exercise to test anti-terrorism forces and the vigilance of citizens, Russia's security chief said Friday.

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the FSB internal security agency, told NTV television three sacks of suspected explosives with a timing device found in an apartment block in Ryazan were planted.

"It was not an explosion somebody foiled; it was a security training exercise. The sacks contained only sugar, there were no explosives inside," he said.

Heightened security concerns have been prompted by a wave of bombings in Russia this month has killed nearly 300 people. The two biggest explosions destroyed two apartment blocks in Moscow.

Officials have blamed the blasts on Chechen warlords fighting Russian rule in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan. The warlords deny any involvement.

Russia's future


Patrushev said similar devices had been planted in other cities, but hinted that residents and officials there had proved less vigilant than in Ryazan.

"Such exercises were not only carried out in Ryazan, and I should single out the people of Ryazan and its forces of law and order for having reacted as they did," he said.

Exercise sparks uproar

A resident late Wednesday night noticed two men carrying what looked like sugar sacks into the basement of the 12-story apartment in Ryazan, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Moscow. He alerted police, who found three sugar sacks in the basement with a timer and detonators.

The sacks were filled with small crystals that resembled cyclonite, the powerful sugar-like explosive which destroyed several apartment blocks across Russia over the last month, killing up to 300 people.

Police evacuated the building and residents spent the night in a local cinema.

Television showed pictures of shocked and frightened people afraid to return to their flats even after the sacks had been removed from the building.

Many newspapers on Friday reported the foiled bomb attack and carried computerized sketches of the suspected would-be bombers.

The leading business daily Kommersant even tried to explain why the stuff found in the sacks failed to go off when local security officials later attempted to detonate it.

"The terrorists seem to have miscalculated the sugar/explosives proportion," the paper said in a story headlined "Timer stopped seven hours before blast."

Despite the uproar, Patrushev defended the drill. "I believe that the exercise should be similar to what happens in real life, because otherwise we won't find anything or won't be reacting to what happens anywhere," he told NTV.

Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and Reuters contributed to this report.

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