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Probe Into Russian Plane Crashes Centers on 2 Female Passengers - 2004-08-28

In Russia, investigators looking into the cause of two near simultaneous airliner crashes, are focusing their attention on two female passengers, who purchased tickets for each flight at the last minute. Investigators have reported finding traces of explosives at both crash sites.

More funerals are taking place in different parts of Russia for some of the 89 people who died in Tuesday's air crashes.

At the same time, teams of investigators continue examining pieces of wreckage from the two crash sites, where the planes came down within minutes of each other.

In particular, officials are seeking more information on two female passengers with Chechen surnames. No relatives have come forward to claim the women's remains, as happened with all the other victims.

The body parts of one woman were scattered widely on the ground. Officials said parts of her legs were found in the toilet section of one plane, leading to speculation that she might have detonated some kind of explosive from there.

Little is known about the second woman, who officials said was on the second plane, and who apparently purchased a ticket just before it left Moscow's Domodeyevo airport.

Several suicide attacks in Russia in recent years have been blamed on widows of Chechen separatist fighters. An Islamic group has claimed responsibility for the crashes, citing solidarity with Chechen rebels.

Officials, meanwhile, are examining security procedures at all Russian airports, and in particular Domodeyevo, considered the most modern of the five commercial airports serving Moscow.

While standard X-ray machines have long been in use there, Transport Minister Igor Levitin says security faults were detected there earlier this year.

Mr. Levitin declined to say exactly what those faults were, although he does say new procedures are to be adopted regarding how tickets are issued.

Although all passengers must show passports or other photo identification when boarding a plane, tickets for domestic flights required only a surname and first initial when issued. From now on, all domestic tickets must contain full passport numbers.

The Russian Transport Ministry is also examining whether airline and travel agencies can have access to computer data to confirm a person's proper identity, something they do not have now.