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Chechen Separatists Blamed for Deadly Explosion - 2002-10-11

Russian officials are blaming Chechen separatists for an explosion Thursday in the Chechen capital of Grozny that killed at least 17 people.

Officials in Grozny say Chechen rebels planted the bomb that demolished a police station. Investigators say they have discounted an earlier theory that the explosion might have been caused by a gas leak.

Ruslan Gavtayev, emergency situations minister for Chechnya, says workers are still looking through the wreckage.

Mr. Gavtayev said three or four more bodies may be under the rubble but he said he did not expect to find anyone alive.

Russian television showed pictures of workers shoveling through the small mountain of bricks, broken boards and concrete that used to be a four-story police station.

Investigators say the target of the bomb was a group of police officers who were meeting on the third floor of the building Thursday evening.

Ruslan Tsitsayev is the head of the Grozny militia department and was in the building when the blast occurred.

Mr. Tsitsayev said the explosion took place ten minutes after the police officers started the meeting. The next thing he knew, he was in the ruins of the building.

Chechen separatists have been fighting Russian soldiers for control of the region almost continuously since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin has said repeatedly that Russia has won the war to subdue the Chechen rebels and all that remains are a few mopping up operations.

But Russian soldiers die almost daily in mine attacks and ambushes. Chechen fighters have also targeted people perceived to be sympathetic to the Moscow-backed government.

Investigators in Chechnya say they should finish their search of the demolished building by this evening.