sixteen people died and scores were wounded when a female suicide bomber struck at a railway station in southern Russia.
The attack heightened concern about terrorism ahead of February’s Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack in Volgograd, but it came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.
Volgograd, 550 miles south of Moscow, lies about 400 miles northeast of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus mountains.
Suicide bombings and other attacks linked to Islamic rebels roaming the North Caucasus have rocked Russia for years.
The government has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and other security personnel to protect the Olympics, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, and the organisers have pledged to make the Sochi Games the “safest Olympics in history”.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the nation’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, said the suicide bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just behind the station’s main entrance.
“When the suicide bomber saw a policeman near a metal detector, she became nervous and set off her explosive device,” Markin said in a statement. He added that the bomb contained about 22lbs of TNT and was rigged with shrapnel.
Markin said that security controls prevented a far greater number of casualties at the station, which was packed with people at a time when several trains were delayed.
He said that 14 people and the bomber were killed on the spot and another victim died later at a hospital.
Russia’s Health Ministry said about 50 people were injured. Markin said 34 were taken to hospital, many in grave condition.
The Interior Ministry said that one police officer died in the explosion and three others were wounded.
The Interfax news agency said body parts of the suspected bomber were found at the scene, which would allow security agencies to quickly identify her.
Female suicide bombers, many of whom were widows or sisters of rebels, have mounted numerous attacks in Russia.
They often have been referred to as “black widows”.
In October, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus in Volgograd, killing six people and injuring about 30. Officials said that attacker came from the province of Dagestan, which has become the centre of an Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region after two separatist wars in Chechnya. She took a Moscow-bound bus from Dagestan, but left it in Volgograd for an unclear reason and took a local bus, where she detonated her explosives.
As in yesterday’s blast, her bomb was rigged with shrapnel that caused severe injuries.
Images caught by a security camera facing the station, broadcast by Rossiya 24 television, showed the moment of explosion: a bright orange flash inside the station behind the main gate followed by plumes of smoke.
“Pieces of flesh mixed with shards of glass and smoke billowed from inside, I didn’t even understand at first what was going on,” said local resident Svetlana Zabotko who witnessed the blast.
On Friday, three people were killed when a car rigged with explosives blew up on a street in Pyatigorsk, the centre of a federal administrative district intended to stabilize the North Caucasus region.
Following Sunday’s explosion, the Interior Ministry ordered police to beef up patrols at railway stations and other transport facilities across Russia.
Russia in past years has seen a series of terror attacks on buses, trains and planes, some carried out by suicide bombers.
Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for previous bombings, ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets during the mass street protests against President Vladimir Putin in the winter of 2011-12. He reversed that order in July, urging his men to “derail” the Sochi Olympics which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors”.