Russian officials were searching for a culprit or culprits Monday after a bomb blast tore through a subway train in Saint Petersburg, killing 11 people and injuring over 40.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came while President Vladimir Putin was visiting the city, his hometown. In the past two decades, Russian trains and planes have been frequent targets of terrorism, usually blamed on Islamic militants.
News reports said police were searching for two suspects, and Russian state television showed a photo of one suspect wearing what appeared to be a skullcap characteristic of Russia’s Muslim regions.
The Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation body, said it had begun a probe based on the assumption that it was terrorism but added that other possibilities were being considered.
The Interfax news agency cited an unidentified source who said a suspect in Monday’s blast might have left the explosive device in a bag. It didn’t explain why the man was believed to be the culprit.
Some reports indicated one of the suspects had turned himself in, saying he had nothing to do with the blast.
Within two hours of the blast, authorities had found and deactivated another bomb at another busy station, Vosstaniya Square, the anti-terror agency said. That station is a major transfer point for passengers on two lines and serves the railway station to Moscow.
Russian law enforcement agencies confirmed the device was loaded with shrapnel, and the Interfax news agency said it contained up to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of explosives.
The explosion occurred in midafternoon as the train traveled between stations one of the city’s north-south lines. The driver chose to continue on to the next stop, Technological Institute, a decision praised by the Investigative Committee as aiding evacuation efforts and reducing the danger to passengers who would have had to walk along the electrified tracks.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had launched a probe into an “act of terror,” but insisted it would nonetheless investigate “all other possible versions of this incident.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his countrymen “stand alongside the Russian people.”
“On behalf of the government of Israel, I send condolences to President Putin and to the families of those who were murdered, following today’s bombing on the St. Petersburg subway,” he said.
The National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the death toll was 11, with another 45 people being treated for wounds in hospitals.
Amateur video broadcast by Russian TV showed people lying on the platform of the Technological Institute station, and others bleeding and weeping just after the damaged train pulled in.
Witnesses said the blast spread panic among passengers, who ran toward the exits of the station, which is 40 meters (130 feet) underground.
“Everything was covered in smoke, there were a lot of firefighters,” Maria Smirnova, a student on a train behind the one where a bomb went off, told the Dozhd television channel. “Firefighters shouted at us to run for the exit and everyone ran. Everyone was panicking.”
The entire St. Petersburg subway system, which serves some 2 million riders a day, was shut down and evacuated. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee said security was immediately tightened at all of the country’s key transportation sites, and Moscow officials said that included the subway in the Russian capital.
Putin, speaking Monday on television from Constantine Palace in the city, said investigators were looking into whether the explosion on the train was a terror attack or if it had some other cause. He offered his condolences to the families of those killed.
Within two hours of the blast, Russia authorities had found and deactivated another bomb at a separate busy St. Petersburg subway station, Vosstaniya Square, the anti-terror agency said. That station is a major transfer point for passengers on two lines and serves the railway station from which most trains to Moscow depart.
Russian law enforcement agencies confirmed the Vosstaniya Square device was rigged with shrapnel and the Interfax news agency said it contained up to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of explosives.
Social media users posted photographs and video from the Technology Institute subway station showing injured people lying on the floor outside a train with a mangled door. Frantic commuters were reaching into doors and windows, trying to see if anyone was there, and shouting, “Call an ambulance!”
St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city with over 5 million residents, is the country’s most popular tourist destination but was no immediate information on whether any foreigners were among the victims Monday.
Nataliya Maksimova, who was running late for a dentist appointment, entered the subway near the explosion site shortly after the blast.
“If I hadn’t been running late, I could have been there,” she told The Associated Press.
Putin was in St. Petersburg on Monday to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and went ahead with the talks after appearing on Russian television to speak about the attack.
“Law enforcement agencies and intelligence services are doing their best to establish the cause and give a full picture of what happened,” Putin said.
Russian transport facilities have been the target of previous terror attacks.
Suicide bombings in the Moscow subway on March 29, 2010, killed 40 people and wounded more than 100 people. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov claimed responsibility for the attack by two female suicide bombers, warning Russian leaders that “the war is coming to their cities.”
A Moscow-to-St. Petersburg train was also bombed on November 27, 2009, in an attack that left 26 dead and some 100 injured. Umarov’s group also said he ordered this attack.
Russian airports have also been hit by attacks. On January 24, 2011, a suicide bomber blew himself up at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 37 people and wounding 180. The same airport in August 2004 saw Islamic suicide bombers board two airplanes and bring them down, killing a total of 90 people.