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Possible Links Between Blast, Chechen Conflict - 2002-05-11

A funeral service has been held for some of the 41 people killed in a bomb blast Thursday in the region of Dagestan in southern Russia. Meanwhile, investigators have said there may be a link between the bombing and the conflict in neighboring Chechnya.

The funeral was for 16 of those killed when a bomb went off during a parade marking the allied victory over Nazi Germany.

Most of the 16 were military officers, marines or sailors, who were stationed in Dagestan. Their coffins were later flown to Moscow en route back to their hometowns across Russia.

Among the victims were also at least 13 children, who were attending the Victory Day parade, held each year on May 9, one of the most important holidays in Russia.

In a letter read at the funeral, President Vladimir Putin promised that those responsible for the explosion would be punished.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's internal security service, blamed the blast on Islamic militants, he said are followers of the extremist Wahhabi sect.

Russia has often blamed Wahhabis for terrorist attacks in the volatile Caucasus Mountain region, especially in Chechnya, where separatists have long been fighting Russian troops. Mr. Patrushev said three people have been detained in connection with the explosion.

Last year, a member of the Wahhabi sect was sentenced to life for the 1999 bombing of an apartment house in Dagestan, which killed almost 70 people.

That was the first of four apartment house bombings which led then-Prime Minister Putin to send Russian forces back into Chechnya.

Meanwhile, in Moscow Saturday, a metro station and market complex were evacuated after police issued two bomb alerts. Bomb sniffer dogs and explosive experts went to the scene to investigate.