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Terrorist attack in St. Petersburg: who was the perpetrator and what do investigators believe happened?

09:38, 4 april 2017

Russian Investigative Committee employees near Tekhnologichesky Institut station of the St Petersburg metro

Photo: Peter Kovalev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on April 3, a terrorist attack occurred within the third card of a train passing from the Sennaya Ploshchad metro station to the Tekhnologichesky Institut metro station St. Petersburg. A homemade explosive device went off in the car. It turned out that this had been an attack carried out by a suicide bomber, who had, apparently, also left a bomb at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station – a bomb that was later found and deactivated by operatives. The attack took the lives of 14 people and left more than 50 passengers injured. Meduza tells what has been learned about the terrorist attack by 12 pm local time on April 4.

Terrorist attack

The explosion on the second line of the St. Petersburg subway system occurred at about 2:40 PM local time (eyewitness testimonies diverge by a range of 10 minutes) in the third car of the train immediately after its departure from the Sennaya Ploshchad metro station. The conductor decided not to stop the train (Russia’s Investigative Committee later deemed this decision as absolutely correct) and drove to the Tecknologichesky Institut station, where emergency services began to provide assistance to the victims and evacuate all passengers from the stations. According to eyewitnesses, at first the station was plunged into chaos; it was unclear exactly what had happened.

Immediately after the explosion, some passengers may have transferred to another branch and continued their trip. The metro was closed later: first Sennaya Ploshchad station, then Tecknologichesky Institute station, and then several other stations, before the entire subway system was closed. The subway resumed work only late in the evening.

Rumors of explosions at other metro stations were not confirmed. Another bomb, however, was found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station in a fire extinguisher case; this bomb, which was deactivated, had a capacity equivalent to 500 grams to 1 kilogram of TNT. The explosive device was equipped with a timer and striking elements; it was discovered about three o’clock in the afternoon. Local publication Fontanka claims that police received a report of an unattended item at Sennaya Ploshchad station just minutes before the explosion.

Initially, it was assumed that the bomb had been left in the subway car, but it has since become known that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and that the device was fixed on his body. There is no official information about how the terrorist acted, but it is believed that he had left the bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station before going to Sennaya Ploshchad station.

According to newspaper Kommersant, the secret services knew that a terrorist attack was in the planning in St. Petersburg, but did not have specific details. If this is the case, it would be a probable explanation for why metro stations in St. Petersburg have been closing more frequency in recent months following reports of unattended items.

A suicide bomber

The earliest information on the identity of the alleged terrorist appeared several hours after the attack when television station REN (followed by other media) published a photograph of a bearded man in black clothes, resembling traditional Muslim clothes, and called him a probable suspect. In the evening, however, wrote newspaper RBK, this man came to the police of his own accord and said that he had nothing to do with the attack.

Later, the media published another photograph of a young man wearing glasses, a blue hat, and a fur-collared jacket and claimed that the individual was suspected of leaving a bomb at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro station. Late on the evening of April 3, the media reported that this individual was Maxim Aryshev – a student from Kazakhstan – but that in his photographs on social networking sites, he did not resemble the person whose image had been captured on surveillance cameras and distributed in the media. It is possible that he is one of the victims of the terrorist attack.

On the morning of April 4, Kazakhstan authorities denied information about the possible involvement of Aryshev in terrorist activities. At the same time, the special services of Kyrgyzstan reported that the possible perpetrator of the terrorist attack may have been Osh native Akbarzhon Jalilov, who was born in 1995 and had Russian citizenship. Publication Fontanka claims that he lived in St. Petersburg over the last six years. Gazeta.ru writes that it managed to find his photos in social networking sites. Currently, there is no other information available.

Theories

Soon after the explosion, law enforcement agencies said that investigators are treating the bombing as a terrorist attack, however, no other version of events have been ruled out as this state. The investigative team has not voiced any official theories of what had occurred.

Newspaper Kommersant claims that the secret services knew that a terrorist attack was in the planning by militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but that Russian security service officials were able to learn anything knew about this after detaining a Russian returning from Syria. According to the newspaper, the detained Russia was the lowest in the militant hierarchy and knew little about plans for a terrorist attack. Special services were unable to find the entire terrorist cell.

According to news source Rosbalt, two versions of the terrorist attack are currently under consideration. The first and the main scenario being considered was that the attack was planned by the Caucasian Jamaats, who settled in Turkey after being pushed out of Russia. The second scenario, said the publication, was that the attack was carried out by Ukrainian nationalists. This theory arose based on an assessment of the explosive device found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya metro station (the bomb was allegedly fused from TNT), but there are no other significant arguments to support this theory.

No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the explosion in the St. Petersburg metro.

Pavel Borisov