Russia probes Islamic State links as St Petersburg mourns its dead


(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Russia probes Islamic State links as St Petersburg mourns its dead

ON a day when a grieving city was again mourning its dead, Russian investigators were yesterday trying to find out what motivated the man behind the bomb blast in the St Petersburg metro that killed 14 people.

The attacker has been named as 22-year-old Akbarjon Djalilov, believed to be a Russian national born in central Asian Kyrgyzstan.

He also planted a bomb at another station that was successfully defused, investigators said.

Authorities searched Djalilov’s residence and said CCTV footage showed him leaving his home ahead of the attack “with a bag and rucksack.”

The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin ordered officials to look into any potential “links” between the alleged attacker and the Islamic State group.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

But jihadists from Islamic State have repeatedly threatened an attack on Russian soil in revenge for Moscow’s military backing of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

In the first sign of a crackdown on suspected Islamists since the attack, authorities in St Petersburg said they had detained six alleged “terrorist” recruiters from central Asia, working for groups including Islamic State, but stressed there was no proof yet of any links to Djalilov.

Djalilov’s fragmented remains were found at the scene of the blast, but it remains unclear whether he was included in the official death toll.

His distraught parents have flown to St Petersburg from their home city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Authorities in the mainly Muslim nation say Djalilov and his parents are ethnic Uzbeks with Russian citizenship and that Djalilov has lived in Russia since he was 16. They said Djalilov flew back to Russia on March 3 after a visit home.

There was no confirmation by Russian officials of any of these details.

As the authorities probed the circumstances of the attack, they also released the identities of most of the victims, as dozens of injured remained in hospital.

The ages of those killed ranged from around 17 to 71 with nationals of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan reported among the dead.

Dozens of people gathered in a St Petersburg cathedral for a memorial service for the dead, as Russia marked a second day of national mourning.

“She was a remarkable, creative person,” said the sister of 50-year-old Irina Medyantseva, a dollmaker who died in the blast. “What happened is terrible.”

The attack has stunned Russia’s second city and posed tough security issues as it gears up to host the opening game and final of the Confederation Cup football tournament in June, ahead of the country holding the World Cup in 2018.

Russia suffered a wave of brutal attacks in the 1990s and 2000s blamed mainly on a rebellion in Chechnya that morphed from a separatist uprising into an Islamist insurgency.

The country’s transport network — including the metro in Moscow — was hit repeatedly by suicide bombers leaving scores dead.

But there had been no attacks against a major city since blasts in the southern city of Volgograd in December 2013, weeks ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Islamic State, however, has struck at Russia abroad, claiming a bomb attack in October 2015 that blew up a passenger jet packed with holidaymakers returning to St Petersburg from Egypt, killing all 224 people onboard.

In the wake of the metro bombing, President Vladimir Putin held talks with world leaders including US President Donald Trump to push for greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The Kremlin has called the attack a “challenge to every Russian, including the head of state.” Putin raised the issue at a meeting scheduled before the attack with security bosses in Moscow.

“We see that the situation unfortunately is not improving,” Putin said in televised comments.

“We know that each of our countries … is a potential target for terrorist attacks.”

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