Medvedev criticises poor airport security

2011-01-25 14:02

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Moscow - Following the suicide bombing at Russia's largest airport, which killed 35 people, President Dmitry Medvedev called on Tuesday for full security checks to be conducted at all transport hubs and for government officials to be held accountable for security lapses.

Medvedev said management of Domodedovo Airport must share responsibility for security failures that contributed to the blast on Monday, which also injured 180 people. He described security at the airport as "simply a state of anarchy".

Airport management objected, saying the inspection of people coming into the arrivals area, where the bombing took place, is the responsibility of transport police.

The finger-pointing could undermine confidence in Russia's security as Medvedev prepares for an appearance at the high-profile World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to try to attract investors.

Two Britons, a German and a Bulgarian were among those killed, according to the Emergencies Ministry. A further 110 people, including nine foreigners, were hospitalised, the ministry said.

No claims of responsibility have been issued. Islamic militants in the southern Russian region of Chechnya have been blamed for previous attacks in Moscow, including a double suicide bombing on the capital's subway system in March 2010 that killed 40 people.

If Monday's attack was by Chechen insurgents, it could indicate an ominous new strategy - unlike previous attacks, it targeted an area where foreigners were likely to gather.

President asserting power

Medvedev postponed his departure for the Davos forum, where he is scheduled to be the main speaker at the opening session on Wednesday. The Kremlin said he still planned to go but his itinerary had not been finalised.

The Russian president, often seen as submissive to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, appeared to be trying to assert his power in his statements on Tuesday, in which he suggested officials of both the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service could be at fault.

"I instruct the Interior Minister to suggest which ministry officials responsible for transport security could be dismissed or face other sanctions," he said, and made similar instructions to the security service.

He also called for a system of "total examination" of passengers and baggage at transport centres. "This will make it longer for passengers, but it's the only way," he said.

It was not clear whether such checks would be extended to non-passengers coming to meet people in the arrivals areas. Few airports control the entrances to such areas.

Russia's attractiveness for investors had been shaken in December when ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to six more years in prison. Khodorkovsky has been jailed since 2003 in a case critics say is revenge for his support of opposition politicians.

Medvedev had lashed out earlier at Domodedovo management.

Criticism echoed

"What happened shows that obviously there were violations in guaranteeing security. And it should be answered for by those who make decisions there and by the management of the airport," he said in comments released by the Kremlin.

Medvedev's criticism was echoed by an official of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, Nikolai Sintsov, who said on state television that "the security measures at Domodedovo were insufficient, otherwise nothing would have happened". Metal detectors were installed at the entrance to the arrivals meeting area hours after the blast.

It was the second time in seven years that Domodedovo was involved in a terrorist attack: In 2004, two female suicide bombers penetrated the lax security there, illegally bought tickets from airport personnel and each boarded aircraft that exploded in flight and killed 90 people.

Conflicting reports emerged on Tuesday about how the bombing was carried out. Some accounts, citing unnamed sources, said there were two bombers, one of them a woman.

Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin said on Monday the attack was most likely carried out by a suicide bomber and "attempts were being made to identify him".

The blast came on Monday afternoon, when hundreds of passengers and workers were in that area of the terminal. They were sprayed with shrapnel of screws and ball bearings, intended to cause as many casualties as possible.

Bodies piled on floor

The terminal filled with thick smoke and witnesses described a scene of horror.

"There was lots of blood, severed legs flying around," said Yelena Zatserkovnaya, a Lufthansa official.

Airport workers turned baggage carts into makeshift stretchers to wheel the wounded to ambulances outside, she said.

Amateur video showed a pile of bodies on the floor, with other dead scattered around. Luggage also was strewn around the terminal and several small fires burned. A dazed man in a suit pushed a baggage cart through the haze.

Driver Artyom Zhilenkov said he was standing just a few meters away from a man who may have been the suicide bomber. He saw an explosion on or near the man, whose suitcase was on fire.

Zhilenkov said he initially thought he himself had been injured, but doctors said he was just coated in the blood of others.

Safety record called into question

"The guy standing next to me was torn to pieces," he said.

Aviation security experts have been warning since the September 11 2001, attacks that the crowds at many airports present tempting targets to suicide bombers. Arrivals halls are usually open to anyone.

The attack also called into question Russia's ability to safely host major international events like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter was in St Petersburg over the weekend to formally award Russia the 2018 World Cup. Before the signing, Blatter told Putin that he was certain FIFA had made the right choice.

Built in 1964, Domodedovo is located 42km southeast of Moscow and is the largest of the three major airports that serve the capital, handling more than 22 million people last year.

- AP
Read more on:    fifa  |  sepp blatter  |  dmitry medvedev  |  vladimir putin  |  russia  |  russia attacks
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