Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Moscow is reeling from a second bomb blast in less than one week, as an explosion early Monday morning brought down an eight-story apartment building, killing at least 34, authorities said.
Shortly after the explosion, which occurred at 5:00 am local time, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, "This was a clear terrorist attack."
In televised remarks before his hasty departure from the summit of Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in New Zealand, Putin said of the perpetrators, "It is difficult even to call them animals. If they are animals, then they are rabid."
Today was to have been an official day of mourning for the 94 killed in last Thursday's blast in Moscow, in which a nine-story apartment building was collapsed by an explosion. Another 200 were injured in that attack.
Initially, officials were slow to blame the first explosion on terrorists, saying instead that it may have been the result of an error made by criminals handling illegal explosives.
But last night, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov confirmed that it was a "terrorist attack of huge destructive force." He blamed Chechen rebels for the attack and called on the government to seal them in their province to prevent any more attacks.
"Experienced bombers worked using very efficient equipment," the Mayor told NTV television. "Most of the explosives were placed in crucial points of the building." The full block of 64 apartments housed some 120 residents, according to various reports.
Luzkhov said that he was "sure Chechnya is to blame."
Russia has been hit by a spate of bombing attacks during the last two weeks. In addition to the two recent attacks in Moscow, a bomb leveled an apartment building in Dagestan, which reportedly housed the families of Russian soldiers fighting in the Caucasus region, killing 65. A previous bombing at a Moscow mall near the Kremlin killed one and injured dozens of others.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts, and Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev denied any involvement in the bomb attacks in Moscow and Dagestan, where rebels have been fighting to form an Islamic federation between Chechnya and Dagestan.
Yesterday, the Russian military said that it had captured the two remaining Islamic rebel strongholds of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi in Dagestan. However, Basayev claimed that rebel forces had withdrawn from the area.
Dr. Stefani Hoffman, Director of the Mayrock Center for Russian and East European Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noted that there is no proof that the explosions are linked to the Chechan rebels, but she said the fact that many are assuming that they are already makes a political point for Chechnya.
The recent attacks have brought about a "certain awareness" in Russia, Hoffman said, in regards to terrorism. For years, they have been "training them (Islamic fundamentalists) to be terrorists. Now (it's) turned against Russia."
Hoffman said the fighting against Russia is not likely to end quickly, and will likely have an impact on the upcoming elections, and she predicted that Russia will probably have a new Prime Minister fairly quickly.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered stepped up security throughout the country in light of the attacks, and many analysts are speculating that Yeltsin may declare a state of emergency, postponing the upcoming parliamentary elections.
"It's clear that anyone who supports Yeltsin is not going to get very far," Hoffman told CNSNews.com. "Yeltsin's own position is shaky (because) the state is not meeting the most basic security needs of its citizens."
Hoffman pointed out that Israel and the Russian Federation, which were enemies during much of the Soviet era, now find themselves with the common problems of "fighting terror" and "fighting Islamic fundamentalism."