Female suicide bomber attacks Russian bus, kills six

Reuters

* Suspect a woman from mainly Muslim North Caucasus region

* Attack comes four months before Russia hosts Olympics

* Dozens wounded in blast on bus

By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW, Oct 21 (Reuters) - A female suicide bomber attackeda bus in southern Russia on Monday, authorities said, killing atleast six people in the deadliest such blast outside thevolatile North Caucasus region in nearly three years.

The bombing in Volgograd was likely to raise fears offurther attacks by Islamist militants as Russia prepares to hostthe 2014 Winter Olympics in February in the Black Sea resortcity of Sochi, not far from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

The attack, which investigators blamed on a 30-year-oldwoman from Dagestan - the North Caucasus province at the centreof an insurgency - also wounded 28 people, of whom eight were incritical condition, the federal Investigative Committee said.

State television showed footage, taken from a camera mountedon a driver's dashboard, of an explosion ripping through the busas it travelled along a tree-lined road, sending shards of metaland glass flying.

Passengers scrambled out of doors and windows as the buscame to a stop engulfed in a cloud of smoke.

"There was a blast - a bang - all the glass flew out of thewindows," an eyewitness named Ivan, who had been driving behindthe bus, told state-run Rossiya-24 television.

"The cloud of smoke quickly dissipated and then I saw peoplestart to fall out and run out to escape the bus," he said. "Itwas a horrible sight."

Authorities named the suspect as Naida Asiyalova, 30, andstate TV showed a passport picture of her in a black chador.

"This woman, in a hijab, got on the bus at one of the stopsand the explosion occurred almost immediately afterwards,"Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.

"BLACK WIDOWS"

A law enforcement source in Dagestan told Reuters that shehad been the wife of Dmitry Sokolov, a man from the Moscowsuburbs who joined an insurgent group in Dagestan last year.

The two met online, the police source said. Asiyalova thenmoved to Moscow to marry Sokolov, 20, ten years her junior. InJuly 2012, his parents put out a missing persons alert for himwhen he failed to come home from Arabic classes.

The source described Sokolov as an explosives expert, who isthought to have prepared a suicide belt used by a woman who blewherself up near federal police headquarters in Dagestan'scapital Makhachkala in May, killing two people.

"By all appearances, he prepared Naida Asiyalova for hersuicide bombing," the police source said.

Vladimir, a man who said his daughter survived the bombing,said many students were on the bus. "The blast was big, it washuge," he told Ekho Moskvy radio. "When I came to pick her up,half the bus was simply not there. It was scary. Very scary."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Volgograd is a city of around 1 million people that lies 900km (560 miles) southeast of Moscow and a few hundred kilometresnorth of the North Caucasus and Sochi, at the western end of theCaucasus range, where Russia will hold the Winter Olympics.

President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on theGames and ordered authorities to boost security in the NorthCaucasus, where the insurgency is rooted in two post-Soviet warspitting Chechen separatists against the Kremlin.

Putin's spokesman conveyed his condolences to the woundedand relatives of the dead, but Putin made no public comment.

Insurgents who say they are fighting to create an Islamicstate have claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing thatkilled 37 people at a Moscow airport in 2011 and twin suicidebombings that killed 40 people on the Moscow subway in 2010.

The latter attack was carried out female suicide bombers,dubbed "black widows" in Russia because their male relativeshave often been killed by security forces.

In 2002, Chechen women wearing black chadors and suicidebelts also took part in a three-day Moscow theatre hostage siegein which around 130 people were killed.

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