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Explosives found in russian jet wreckage

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Explosives Found in Russian Jet Wreckage
Explosives Traces Found in Russian Airliner Wreckage, According to Intelligence Agency

The Associated Press

MOSCOW Aug. 27, 2004 Traces of explosives have been found in the wreckage of one of two Russian airliners that crashed nearly simultaneously earlier this week, the Federal Security Service said Friday, a day after a top official acknowledged that terrorism was most likely behind the crashes.

A Web site known for militant Muslim comment, meanwhile, published a claim of responsibility for downing the two planes, connecting the action to Russia's fight against separatists in Chechnya.

A spokesman for the security agency, Nikolai Zakharov, said on Russian television that preliminary analysis shows traces of "hexogen" were found in the shattered Tu-154 jetliner that crashed in southern Russia.

Hexogen is the explosive that officials said was used in the 1999 apartment bombings that killed some 300 people in Russia and were blamed on Chechen separatists.

Another Federal Security Agency spokesman, Sergei Ignatchenko, said authorities were trying "to determine the circle of people who may have been involved in an act of terrorism aboard the Tu-154," according to the Interfax news agency.

Investigators were searching for information about two women with Chechen surnames who were on the planes' passenger lists, Russian news agencies reported Friday. The women were reportedly the only passengers about whom relatives have not inquired.

Chechen rebels and their supporters have been blamed for a series of suicide bombings and other attacks in Russia over the past several years, including last year's suicide bombings of an outdoor rock concert in Moscow and another outside a hotel near Red Square.

The crashes took place just five days before Chechens were to vote for the republic's president, to replace Kremlin-backed Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov who was assassinated in a May 9 bomb attack.

No results from the other crash site, of a Tu-134 about 120 miles south of Moscow, have been announced. At least 89 people were killed in the twin disasters.

The planes disappeared from radar screens within minutes of each other on Tuesday after taking off from the same airport, Moscow's Domodedovo, but Russian officials have been hesitant about linking them with terrorism, saying the possibility of bad fuel and human error also was being investigated.

The prospect that explosives had been placed aboard planes leaving from one of Russia's most modern and sophisticated airports was likely to raise serious concern about air security throughout the sprawling country.

There were no immediate indications that Russia was considering halting national air traffic, as the United States did after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. A duty officer at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow said all flights were taking off and landing as scheduled.

Rebels and Russian forces have been fighting in Chechnya for nearly five years. Officials had warned of concern that separatists could try to commit attacks ahead of Sunday's elections, which are part of the Kremlin's strategy of trying to undermine the insurgents by establishing a modicum of civil order in the region.

The claim of responsibility published on the militant Muslim Web site was signed "the Islambouli Brigades." A group with a similar name has claimed responsibility for at least one other attack, but the authenticity could not immediately be confirmed.

The statement said five mujahedeen (Islamic fighters) were on board each plane and their wills will be published soon. It did not give more details.

"We in the Islambouli Brigades announce that our holy warriors managed to hijack two Russian planes and were crowned with success though they faced problems at the beginning," the statement said without elaborating on the problems.

Russian officials have repeatedly contended that Chechen rebels receive help from foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.

Friday's claim did not refer to al-Qaida, but a group called "the Islambouli Brigades of al-Qaida" claimed responsibility for last month's attempt to assassinate Pakistan's prime minister-designate.

"Our mujahedeen, with God's grace, succeeded in directing the first blow which will be followed by a series of other operations in a wave to extend support and victory to our Muslim brothers in Chechnya and other Muslim areas which suffer from Russian faithlessness," the statement said.

It was not clear whether the statement claimed that Chechens themselves staged attacks on the planes.

Security analyst Andrei Soldatov said the reported Chechen connection could bring more suffering to the republic, where Russian forces are widely criticized for abusing and abducting civilians.

"The government will now be able to say that the fight against separatists in Chechnya comes under the roof of international terrorism. As soon as they say that, you can forget about human rights in the region," he said.

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