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Sunday, May 09, 2004

Stadium bombing kills 30 in Grozny, including Chechen President

Jihad declared in late 18th century against Russian rule

A video grab from NTV Russian television shows security personnel
helping a man (C), believed to be Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov,
seconds after an explosion at a stadium in Grozny, May 9, 2004,
during annual celebrations of 'Victory Day'. (Reuters - Handout)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites)'s top man in Chechnya (news - web sites) was assassinated in a bomb attack Sunday that killed at least five others and dealt a huge blow to the Kremlin leader's plans to stamp out rebellion there.

Moscow's senior soldier in the rebel province was also fighting for his life after being seriously wounded by the blast that tore through the VIP section of a stadium where dignitaries were gathered to celebrate the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany.

After conflicting reports of the death toll, Russian news agencies said six people, including an eight-year-old girl, had been killed and more than 50 people injured. . . .

The attack on the top-security event attended by military and political officials was one of the most audacious on Russian forces and the administration in mainly-Muslim Chechnya since Russian troops reoccupied the area in 1999.

"The bomb was placed inside a concrete part of the stadium," said Khamid Kadayev, Chechnya's deputy interior minister, speaking on television from the scene of the blast.

He said this meant it escaped detection in security sweeps. He did not say how the bomb could have been smuggled in, but reconstruction work had been going on at the stadium.

The commander of Russian forces in the region, General Valery Baranov, was among many injured. One of his legs was torn off in the blast and he was in critical condition undergoing surgery, Interfax news agency said.

Interior Ministry officials said an artillery shell, primed to explode, had also been found in a neighboring stand.

Pandemonium broke out when the bomb exploded sending clouds of brown smoke rising up from the wrecked VIP stand.

From Reuters' FACTBOX on Chechen separatists: A mountainous region in the Caucasus range, Chechnya is inhabited by a mainly Muslim people with a fearsome reputation dating from the late 18th century when warlord Sheikh Mansour led a jihad (holy war) against Russian rule.

- Josef Stalin, fearing Chechens would be disloyal, deported the entire nation in 1944 to Central Asia where many died. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev let them return in 1957.

- After Dzhokhar Dudayev declared independence at the end of Soviet rule, President Boris Yeltsin sent in troops in December 1994 and Russia became mired in war. Mass rebel hostage-takings led to a truce being signed and Moscow withdrew its forces.

- During three years of de facto independence, Chechnya was gripped by murders and kidnapping. After hardliners invaded an adjacent region in 1999 and Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, blamed rebels for bombings in Russian cities, troops were sent back to Chechnya and separatist leaders fled.

- Putin, as president, started establishing local rule, appointing Akhmad Kadyrov head of a loyalist administration in 2000. Kadyrov was killed in Sunday's bomb attack at a Grozny stadium which Moscow blamed on Chechen separatists.

- Separatists have pursued daily attacks on Russian troops. In the most daring raid in October 2002, rebels seized a Moscow theatre -- 41 separatists and 129 civilians died, most from noxious gas used by Russian forces staging a rescue.