Nine people were killed on Thursday by a suspected suicide blast that ripped apart a minibus in a busy square in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz, witnesses and officials said.
The blast caused mayhem in the square just outside a market in the centre of Vladikavkaz, located in the North Ossetia region of the restive Russian Caucasus.
Witnesses said the public minibus was packed with people, most of them students, when the blast occurred at a bus stop.
|Nine people were killed by a suspected suicide blast that ripped apart a minibus in a busy square in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz|
"As a result of the terrorist act in Vladikavkaz nine people died and around 40 were injured. The explanation being investigated is that the blast was caused by a female terrorist suicide bomber," regional administration head Taimuraz Mamsurov was quoted by Interfax as saying.
"The head of a woman has been found at the scene, thought to be that of the suicide bomber," he said, adding that a day of mourning would be observed in the region on Saturday.
North Ossetia, which lies on Russia's southern border with Georgia, was the scene of the devastating 2004 school hostage crisis at Beslan.
The region is also close to several other regions racked by instability in recent years, including Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Investigators said Thursday's blast occurred not inside the minibus itself but close by, as the bus came to a halt at a bus stop.
One investigator told Interfax the device used in the blast was packed with nuts, bolts and other pieces of metal.
An AFP reporter saw fragments of human flesh scattered across the ground at the site. Fruit and vegetables from the nearby market were also scattered at the scene.
Large crowds gathered around the nearby police cordon to catch a glimpse.
Witnesses saw six corpses lying on the ground immediately after the blast, while other victims died en route to hospitals around the city.
"I wanted to get on the bus but suddenly there was this explosion. Something hit me on the head and I don't remember anything after that," 17-year-old local student Angelina told AFP from a hospital bed where she was being treated for head injuries.
"I came out of the market with a full bag of fruit. I bent down to pick up my bag and get on the bus and just then the explosion occurred and I lost consciousness," said shopper Irina Kravchenko.
Many of the injured were suffering severe burns.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered investigators to carry out a "painstaking" probe, RIA Novosti news agency quoted the Kremlin press service as saying.
Initial reports had suggested the blast might have been caused by an exploding gas canister, but officials at the scene later played down this explanation.
North Ossetian militias fought a brief war with forces from neighbouring Ingushetia in the early 1990s and tensions rose again after the Beslan attack.
Russian soldiers and police continue to be killed on a weekly basis by mainly Muslim insurgents, most notably in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, the latter the scene of two full-scale wars since the 1991 Soviet collapse.