News / Europe

Belarus Police Release Sketch of Subway Bombing Suspect

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, center, accompanied by his bodyguards, looks at the blast site inside the Oktyabrskaya subway station in Minsk, Belarus, April 11, 2011
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, center, accompanied by his bodyguards, looks at the blast site inside the Oktyabrskaya subway station in Minsk, Belarus, April 11, 2011
James Brooke

The toll from the Minsk subway bombing has risen to 12 dead and 204 injured as Belarus police and politicians struggled for answers.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko ordered his police to "turn everything inside out" as the Central-European nation struggled with its worst terrorist attack since winning independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.

President Lukashenko ordered authorities to find those "seeking to benefit from exploding the calm and stability in the country."

According to Minsk police, a bomb with the explosive power of five kilograms of TNT exploded under a subway station bench at the peak of the Monday evening rush hour. Packed with nails, bolts, and ball bearings, the bomb cut through hundreds of commuters standing on the platform or on an arriving train. Twenty survivors are in critical condition. Several people lost arms or legs.

Unlike the bombs that hit transportation targets in Moscow during the past year, this bomb apparently was made of gunpowder and set off by remote control.  Saying there was no suicide bomber, police officials released the composite sketch of the prime suspect a well-built man in his late 20s.  Three men have been detained for questioning in the Belarus capital.

The bomb blew up in the metro’s lone transfer station, at the downtown intersection of the system’s two lines.  On Tuesday, one line resumed service.  The second is to reopen Wednesday.  Traffic jams formed around the city of 1.8 million people, the biggest city between Warsaw and Moscow.

The bomber chose a station about 100 meters from the presidential offices and across a street from the concert hall where Mr. Lukashenko was inaugurated in January, following elections widely criticized as fraudulent.

European Council on Foreign Relations Belarus expert Jana Kobzova watched President Lukashenko on TV Tuesday.  She said the massive bomb blew up the president’s long-cherished claim his authoritarian rule ensures peace and stability for the nation. "I have never seen him so nervous.  He did not actually blame anyone but the government and themselves," she said.

She said that after the metro bomb, Belarus now looks more and more like Russia, an authoritarian country marked by political violence.

Resident Yaroslav Romanchuk describes how the bomb was a big shock for normally quiet Minsk.  He says he walked past the bombed station a few minutes after the explosion. "When I was walking past that particular station, people could not even believe it was a terrorist act.  They could not even voice those words 'terrorist act.'  They talked about an explosion of the gas or some technical accident," he said.

Romanchuk, a former opposition candidate, predicted Belarus authorities would turn on the opposition.

On Tuesday, KGB officers raided the offices of the nation’s lone opposition newspaper, Nasha Niva, saying they were searching for photos and videos of the subway explosion.  Border police also carefully checked cars leaving Belarus for Russia.  In January, Belarus and Russia started a customs union and eased border controls.

President Lukashenko raised the possibility of foreign involvement in a televised lecture to KGB officials He said he does not rule out that this gift was a gift from abroad.  But he cautioned authorities need to also look in Belarus.

No group has publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing.

KGB head Vadim Zaytsev told reporters in Minsk the KGB is looking into three possible motives for the attack: the destabilization of the situation in the country, revenge by extremist organizations or the act of a mentally ill person.

But the day after the bombing, Kobzova agreed with independent analysts who discounted theories the bomb was the work of Russian Islamist terrorists or a radicalized faction of the nation’s anti-Lukashenko opposition. "It is difficult to imagine the opposition behind this attack.  Opposition is quite disorganized at the moment.  Many of their people are still in prison.  They have no reason whatsoever to do this," she said.

Kobzova also predicted the bomb would be used as a pretext for more pressure on the Belarus’ political opposition.

The leader of the Belarusian Party of the Left, Sergei Kalyakin, says he hopes the police will arrest the perpetrators without further cracking down on constitutional rights. He said the people that planned and carried out the bombing cannot be considered human beings.

That view was held by many Minsk residents who visited the station, lighting candles and placing flowers.  Wednesday has been declared an official day of mourning for the entire nation.

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