Russia's state investigative committee says it has arrested six Central Asian men in St. Petersburg on suspicion of aiding terrorist activity, two days after a deadly attack on a crowded subway train in that city.
The group is accused of recruiting other men from Central Asian republics to join Islamic State and other extremist groups since 2015. But the committee issued a statement saying no evidence has been uncovered linking the group to the bombing that killed 14 people and left dozens more injured.
Russian investigators have identified 22-year-old Kyrgyz-born Akbarzhon Dzhalilov as the suicide bomber who carried out the attack.
World leaders from China to Europe to Brazil expressed their condolences over the tragedy. U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and offered full support in responding to the attack.
Politicizing the bombing
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the global outpouring Russia received reflected a common understanding of the need to join efforts to fight terrorism instead of trying, according to him, to “use extremists to reach narrow geopolitical goals.”
"With regard to the argument made by some media that the attack is revenge against Russia for our policy in Syria... [this is] cynical, cowardly," said Lavrov, who went on to point a finger at the previous U.S. administration. "Sadly, this is not just a media fabrication: certain figures, including representatives of Obama administration’s Pentagon, have shared similar thoughts with the world community.”
City on edge
The attack has left St. Petersburg residents on edge.
St. Petersburg emergency services responded Tuesday morning to a bomb threat at a subway station near Monday’s deadly blast on a train as it was passing between two stations. After receiving an anonymous call, police went to clear pedestrians from the area.
Reporters on the scene said fire trucks and ambulances quickly arrived. Authorities briefly closed subway stations. They searched for an unattended item before re-opening the stations. Russian media reports said the law department at St. Petersburg University was also evacuated because of a suspicious package.
“I think the atmosphere in the city is nervous,” said one resident who only gave her first name — Anastasia. “People walk and they do not understand what is happening. The public transport is too busy and is not coping. It is scary for us.”
Russia is holding three days of mourning for those killed. President Putin overnight laid flowers near the bombing cite in St. Petersburg in tribute. Putin was in the city when the bombing occurred, the timing of which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “food for thought.”
Ordinary Russians paid respects as well, laying flowers and messages at a makeshift memorial outside the subway stations in St. Petersburg and at the Leningrad Hero City memorial in front of the Kremlin wall in Moscow.
Meanwhile, authorities are investigating what may have motivated the bombing, the first ever in Russia’s second largest city.
The most recent subway attack was in Moscow in 2010, when female suicide bombers connected to an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya were blamed for killing at least 33 people. Earlier bombings on the Moscow metro in 2004, also linked to Chechen terrorists, killed nearly 50 people.